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In an email to her Cabinet members Tuesday morning, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that Barbara Bazron will take over as the new director of the Department of Behavioral Health.
The department, which is responsible for the District’s mental health and addiction treatment systems, has been without a chief executive since last November, when Director Tanya Royster was fired amid controversy. In recent months, investigations by the Washington Postand City Paper revealed that crucial addiction treatment programs shriveled during the worst years of the opioid crisis, and that DBH mismanaged millions of dollars of federal grant money. The federal government is currently auditing the Department’s grant management.
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Bazron is not new to DBH leadership. A longtime employee of the now-defunct Department of Mental Health, she became DBH’s top mental health official when the DMH and the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration merged to form DBH in 2013. When DBH’s first director retired in 2015, Bazron became the acting director, leading DBH for several months until Royster was appointed that August. Bazron left the D.C. government that November, and currently serves as the deputy secretary for behavioral health for the state of Maryland.
While brief, Bazron’s first tenure as acting director of DBH was at times an eventful one. Multiple top substance abuse officials at DBH at the time told City Paper that the merger was “less of a merger and more of a takeover,” creating hostile relationships between top mental health and substance abuse officials that they feel resulted in important addiction treatment programs being neglected.
Bazron was also in charge when DBH’s Office of Accountability found that DBH appeared to have allowed substantial fraud on a million dollar contract by failing to provide oversight, as City Paper reported earlier this week. Bazron was not in charge when the fraud occurred, but was at the helm when DBH’s Office of Accountability recommended that DBH alert external authorities of the fraud and have D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General conduct a comprehensive audit—recommendations that were never heeded. Bazron told City Paper that “when [the evidence of fraud] was brought to my attention, I directed [DBH’s] Office of Accountability to investigate this matter. When I left the agency in November 2015, the investigation was underway.”
Bazron is returning to a department that many have said requires serious reform, and she faces high expectations in addressing the city’s poor response to the opioid crisis.