O’Dowd to replace DHSS commissioner on interim basis

TRENTON – With Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Poonam Alaigh reported to be stepping down today, insiders say they were caught off guard by the departure.

Alaigh took a large pay cut to join Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet, stepping down as executive medical director at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, but no one is entirely clear on what precipitated the exit.

Stepping in, a source said, in the interim will most likely be deputy commissioner Mary O’Dowd, who also served as chief of staff to former DHSS Commissioner Heather Howard under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

O’Dowd’s husband is Kevin O’Dowd, deputy chief counsel to Christie, and her father is Anthony Marchetta, executive director of the N.J. Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA).

She’s not a physician like Alaigh, a vascular disease specialist, and that may hurt O’Dowd’s chances to secure the role full time, since either the commissioner or the deputy is required to be a physician.

The Governor’s Office said an announcement regarding the DHSS commissioner is expected in the coming hour.

  O’Dowd to replace DHSS commissioner on interim basis