A former top Washington, D.C., health official will become Colorado's first behavioral health commissioner, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday morning.

Morgan Medlock will join the governor's Cabinet as its newest member on Jan. 18. She was previously the chief medical officer and head of emergency services for D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, where she'd started in June 2020, according to her LinkedIn profile. She also spent more than three and a half years at Howard University as an adjunct and then assistant professor of psychiatry. 

She received master's degrees in public health from Harvard University and in divinity from Andrews University; her medical degree is from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. Medlock's background has focused on substance use services and working with vulnerable populations. According to a bio from Harvard, she was the "inaugural director of the Spirituality and Mental Health consultation service at McLean Hospital, (where) she developed a model for spiritual assessment and integration into mental health treatment."

“Dr. Medlock’s experience, expertise, and commitment to addressing challenges with innovative solutions make her the right choice for this cabinet level role," Polis said in a statement, "and I look forward to working with her to deliver the care that Coloradans deserve.”

Medlock will oversee the brand-new Behavioral Health Administration. Flooded with COVID-19 pandemic relief funds and more than $400 million in settlement funds from opioid litigation, state leaders have faced sharpened criticism in recent weeks about how they have handled broad mental health crises here. A Colorado New Collaborative investigation, published a month ago, described significant problems within Colorado's community health center network. A Dec. 7 letter to Polis from mental health advocates and commissioners from five rural counties pleaded with him to address the situation.

Children's Hospital Colorado declared a pediatric mental health state of emergency last spring, and Colorado, like much of the nation, is facing a rising wave of fatal overdoses fueled by fentanyl and exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our effort to transform Colorado’s behavioral health system, and our success will depend in large part upon bold and effective leadership from the Behavioral Health Administration,” Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera said in a statement. “I’m confident that Dr. Medlock is the right person to guide the Administration and ensure that we continue to act urgently and purposefully to help all Coloradans get the behavioral health care that they need.”

Colorado Politics staff writer Marianne Goodland contributed to this report.

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