A Massachusetts health official with a focus on equity and opioid response has been nominated by Mayor Jacob Frey as Minneapolis' next health commissioner.
If approved by the City Council, Damōn Chaplin would be only the city's second commissioner in more than 20 years.
Longtime Commissioner Gretchen Musicant retired at the end of 2021; Heidi Ritchie has served as interim health commissioner since and will become Chaplin's deputy health commissioner, Frey's office said in an announcement.
Since 2018 and throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Chaplin, 50, has worked as director of the Health Department in New Bedford, Mass., a seaside city of a little more than 100,000. While there, he chaired New Bedford's opioid task force, which focused on reducing opioid drug use in marginalized communities.
A prominent figure in the field of municipal public health, Chaplin also serves on the board of directors for the National Association of County and City Health Officials and previously worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as director of local public health initiatives.
In a 2021 interview with the Boston University School of Public Health, Chaplin described the COVID-19 equity challenges facing New Bedford, which has a high population of people who speak Portuguese, as well the ties between lower life expectancy and poverty among people of color.
"The average person of color dies before the age of 60 in too many cities," said Chaplin, underscoring that the 50s and 60s are prime income-earning years. "That's why years of life expectancy is such a critical data point, because you're losing it on the back end — you're not living long enough — and you're losing it on the front end when you're dying too soon, for reasons that I consider to be completely preventable."
In a statement released by Frey's office, Chaplin said he was "honored."
"My entire career has been dedicated to providing communities with equitable access to public health resources and programs," he said. "The health and safety of all Minneapolis residents is my number one priority, and I plan to make sure we are doing everything possible to carry out that vision — especially for our most vulnerable populations."
Frey's appointment of Chaplin follows a national search.
"The past three years have made it clear that public health is at the forefront of our daily lives," Frey said in his announcement. "Minneapolis needs a leader who can prioritize health and safety for all who live here, and Damōn Chaplin is that person. Both his experience navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and deep knowledge of opioid recovery work will prove beneficial to our city. I'm grateful to interim Commissioner Heidi Ritchie, who stepped up to lead the department over the past year."
Chaplin's term will expire at the end of 2025.
The health commissioner's annual salary can range from $161,413 to $191,345, according to city records.