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HL20: Cheryl Bartlett, RN—Public Health Advocacy, From Bottom to Top

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, December 3, 2013

Eventually she gravitated to public health, which she describes as "where my heart is." She founded the Nantucket AIDS Network and worked in social services and patient advocacy in Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. Along the way she served on the board of selectman in Nantucket and worked for a nonprofit preservation organization.

She came to DPH in 2008 as deputy director of the bureau of community health and prevention. It was an opportunity, she says, to "take everything I learned to this place that really helps people across the state. I think I bring a lot of on-the-ground experience to all the work we do."

She was named bureau director in 2010, interim deputy commissioner of DPH in January 2013, interim commissioner in May, and she was tapped as commissioner in June.

Bartlett inherited a department still stinging from two recent scandals: a national fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a compounding pharmacy in Framingham and the mishandling of drug evidence at a former DPH crime laboratory.

The department has also struggled to continue its public health mission in the face of a weak economy, which has increased demand for DPH services and produced challenging budget cuts.

Bartlett says the top priority for DPH is to build the infrastructure necessary to strengthen the core foundation of the Massachusetts public health system. She points to compliance with licensure surveys for healthcare facilities, inspections for food establishments, the state's food protection program, and oversight of the pharmaceutical industry as areas that have struggled and need more attention.

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