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BOSTON MA. – MARCH 4:  Commissioner of the Department of Public Health Monica Bharel, and Kerin Milky, Director Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management speak before the Joint Committee on Public Health hearing to address the stateÕs continued preparedness for the coronavirus on March 4, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
BOSTON MA. – MARCH 4: Commissioner of the Department of Public Health Monica Bharel, and Kerin Milky, Director Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management speak before the Joint Committee on Public Health hearing to address the stateÕs continued preparedness for the coronavirus on March 4, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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BOSTON – Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel plans to step down June 18, after leading the Department of Public Health through the first 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders announced Bharel’s departure plans Thursday, saying she wanted to “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.”

Deputy DPH Commissioner Margret Cooke, who joined the department in 2015 as its general counsel, will serve as interim commissioner.

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.

She contracted and recovered from COVID-19 last year, and later in 2020 took an unrelated temporary medical leave, during which Cooke served as acting commissioner.

“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 in a statement. “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.”