Massachusetts: Departure of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel

BOSTON, MA (STL.News) Today, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders announced that after serving as the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health for over 6 years, Commissioner Monica Bharel is stepping down effective June 18. Appointed by Governor Baker in 2015, the Commissioner has steered the Department of Public Health through significant public health challenges including the opioid epidemic, vaping associated lung disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), and the COVID-19 pandemic. The longest serving Commissioner of Public Health since 1997, Commissioner Bharel brought a health equity lens to all of the Department’s work.

Commissioner Bharel is a primary care physician with over 20 years of clinical experience.  She holds a Master’s in public health in health care management and policy.

“Commissioner Bharel’s steadfast work ethic and commitment to health equity has made a lasting impact on hundreds of thousands of residents of the Commonwealth,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.  “Her tireless advocacy for the public health of all residents helped the Administration navigate the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic with compassion.  On behalf of the administration, I extend my deepest thanks to Commissioner Bharel for her service to the Commonwealth during these unprecedented times and to wish her the very best as she pursues her next professional chapter.”

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve residents of the Commonwealth as the state’s top physician and the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health,’’ said Commissioner Monica Bharel.  “After serving in this role for more than six years, which is longer than any Public Health Commissioner has served in nearly a quarter of a century, it is the right time to begin a new chapter.  DPH staff have helped make Massachusetts a national leader in COVID-19 testing and vaccination while demonstrating a tireless commitment to placing health equity front and center of that work.  Because of our work these past six years, Massachusetts now consistently ranks as one of the healthiest states in the nation.’’

Achievements during Commissioner Bharel’s tenure include:

  • Massachusetts has consistently ranked among the top 5 healthiest states in the nation according to the American Health Rankings report.
  • Massachusetts was first in the nation to control access to vaping products and tobacco flavors including menthol in 2019 first with a Public Health order followed by legislation.
  • Massachusetts has maintained the highest childhood vaccination rate in the country since 2019.
  • Oversaw the DPH response to COVID-19 pandemic including data analysis, guidance development, mitigation strategies and the vaccine equity initiative.
  • Awarded national accreditation status by the Public Health Accreditation Board in 2017.
  • Improved Massachusetts’ awareness, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery response to the opioid crisis and increased access to treatment for individuals suffering from opioid use disorder.  Created the first in the nation, Opioid Core Competencies for educating physical, dental, and behavioral health professionals.
  • Launched the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in 2016 to track scheduled prescriptions.  Since its implementation, there has been a 45% decrease in opioid prescriptions.
  • Created the Office of Population Health which provides a precision public health approach to highlight the impact of social determinants of health and unearth data disparities.
  • Revamped the medical marijuana program, resulting in the safe opening of medical dispensaries prior to its transfer to the newly established Cannabis Control Commission in 2018.
  • Implemented landmark revisions to the Determination of Need (DoN) regulation that prioritize social determinants of health.
  • Strengthened DPH’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention regulations to lower the blood lead level of children considered to have lead poisoning, established a blood lead level of concern, streamlined de-leading practices, and expanded required blood lead screening.
  • Launched the Gun Violence Prevention Program as a public health issue.

Margret Cooke, currently serving as the Department’s Deputy Commissioner will serve as Interim Commissioner.  Margret Cooke joined the Department of Public Health as General Counsel in 2015 before becoming Deputy Commissioner.  Previously she served as Deputy Bureau Chief in the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau in the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.