Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards names cabinet members to oversee prisons, hospitals _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Louisiana Governor Elect John Bel Edwards speaks about his plans after winning the election the day before with his son John, right, and wife Donna, second left, at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015.

Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards almost filled out his cabinet Wednesday, naming the heads of two of state government’s largest agencies.

His nominees include a Jindal administration cabinet secretary to run the prisons and a promotion for another top official in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s state Department of Health and Hospitals.

He tapped Dr. Rebekah E. Gee, who teaches Health Policy and Management at LSU and is the state Medicaid Medical Director. Escalating costs of Medicaid, the government insurance program for that covers about 1.4 million Louisiana residents, is one the key issues the Edwards administration will have to tackle.

Edwards also promised to expand the Medicaid qualifications to allow access for people who make too much to join the government program, but not enough to buy insurance on their own.

DHH has 19 agencies, about 7,000 employees and a budget of $9.7 billion to provide services – in addition to Medicaid patients – for the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, the elderly and the addicted as well as public health and medical services under Medicaid.

Jimmy LeBlanc is one of the only cabinet-level holdover from the Jindal administration and one of the few secretaries that served out Gov. Bobby Jindal’s entire term. He had been the acting chief of operations at the Department of Public Safety and Corrections when tapped by Jindal.

LeBlanc oversees 11 prisons and some law enforcement agencies.

LeBlanc is a close friend and business partner of Burl Cain. The 73-year-old was warden of the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, by landmass, until Cain resigned in December under the cloud of an investigation into his business activities.

Cain is the target of a criminal investigation by the Inspector General’s Office and the State Police with the cooperation of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor also is looking into Cain’s business arrangements.

In November, The Advocate reported Cain, who served as head of the storied penitentiary for two decades, did real estate deals with family and friends of two inmates who, during their sentences at Angola, were offered favorable treatment not available to most offenders. The transactions appeared to go against corrections rules prohibiting “nonprofessional relationships.”