Massachusetts announced Thursday that Dr. Monica Bharel, the state's Commissioner of the Department of Public Health for the past six years, is stepping down effective June 18.
Bharel was one of the key figures in the state's fight against the coronavirus pandemic and contracted COVID-19 herself in March of 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. She was also out on an unrelated medical leave of absence again in September.
“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,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said. “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.”
Margret Cooke, currently serving as the department’s deputy commissioner, will serve as interim commissioner. She 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 Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
A primary care physician with a master's in public health degree, Bharel served as the chief medical officer for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless before joining the Baker administration in 2015.
During her time as public health commissioner, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to control access to vaping products and tobacco flavors, including menthol.
The state has also maintained the highest childhood vaccination rate in the country since 2019, the agency said.
The state also launched several initiatives to address the opioid epidemic, including the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that has helped decrease opioid prescriptions by 45%.
The department has also addressed gun violence, lead poisoning and medical marijuana during her tenure.
“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,’’ Bharel said. “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.’’