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Continued: State health commissioner resigns

"I'm sad to hear it. I think she was a good commissioner -- very devoted to her work," he said.

Mandernach, a former nun and teacher, was chief executive of the Mercy Hospital & Health Care Center in Moose Lake, Minn., from 1994 to 2003.

Raising questions

On Tuesday, Tomassoni renewed his questioning about who knew what, and when.

"Did the governor really know about the deaths?" he said. "Is he part of the cover-up? Is Mandernach's resignation an attempt to take attention off other things?"

Pawlenty, who appointed Mandernach in 2003, had chastised her for the delay but said she would not be fired.

"We were told from the outset that the commissioner wouldn't resign, that the governor was giving her his full backing," Tomassoni said. "You see that there were reports that the bridge was falling apart, and you wonder how many other things are going on in this administration that need attention and are being ignored. Who knows what else is collapsing around us?"

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he was pleased that Mandernach quit. He's chairman of the Senate's Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.

"She's a good person, but not right for this job," Marty said. "I can't picture her making that decision on her own. The governor's office had been fully aware of the information and clearly didn't intervene to make it public."

Marty said his misgivings began about a year after her appointment, when Mandernach was forced to remove the wording on the website that claimed a link between abortion and breast cancer.

"She told me it was her judgment to override all of the scientific information at the time," Marty said.

Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, serves on the Health and Human Services budget division and took part in June's hearings about the cancer data. "It seemed obvious to me that the commissioner was protecting someone higher up," she said. "I would like to think of her as a good woman who got pressured to do things by higher powers, someone whose good conscience compelled her to step away from that position."

Meanwhile, Pawlenty praised Mandernach:

"Her work in areas such as strengthening emergency preparedness, promoting healthy behaviors, reducing health disparities, expanding health information technology, and improving how we report on the quality of health care have helped people and our state."

Staff writer D.J. Tice contributed to this report. jpowell@startribune.com • 612-673-7750 plopez@startribune.com • 651-222-1288

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