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Colorado chief medical officer Wolk resigning to go to California

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 3, 2018 - Updated: August 3, 2018

WolkDr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (Photo courtesy CDPHE)

Dr. Larry Wolk, the sometimes-controversial head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is leaving his post at the end of August and headed to California, according to an announcement Friday from Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Wolk was appointed as the state’s chief medical officer in September 2013.

In announcing Wolk’s departure, Hickenlooper said “Larry’s leadership and commitment to the environment and health of Colorado and our people is evident by across-the-board improvements. Our environment is cleaner and our people are healthier, thanks to Larry’s efforts.”

“During his tenure, Larry has been challenged by marijuana legalization, increasing oil and gas development and the domestic introductions of Ebola and Zika viruses, to name a few. His development of state plans to address these and other emerging issues are just a few examples of his impressive legacy.”

Wolk will become the chief medical officer for the Wonderful Company, which is based in Santa Monica, California. The company, which is owned by the billionaire couple Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owns international brands Pom Wonderful; Fiji water; Halos, the mandarin orange brand; and Wonderful Pistachios, which in 2014 launched a popular advertising campaign featuring comedian Stephen Colbert.

In his new position, Wolk will oversee Wonderful Health and Wellness, managing thousands of employees and their families’ health, while also working with the Resnicks “to develop and implement social investments in the communities where their employees live, including public charter schools, community clinics and grocers.”

Wolk said Friday that “It has been my privilege and honor to work for Gov. Hickenlooper. He set out the goal to make Colorado the healthiest state and I have tried to deliver on his vision. Under his incredible leadership, the CDPHE has achieved nation-leading low teen pregnancy rates, reductions in methane and carbon emissions and exemplary policy and programs regulating legalized adult-use marijuana.”

According to Hickenlooper’s announcement, Wolk will leave the CDPHE at the end of August. Karin McGowan, the current deputy executive director, will step into the executive director role on an interim basis.

Dr. Tista Ghosh, current deputy medical officer, will serve as interim chief medical officer through the end of the governor’s administration.

Wolk’s time at CDPHE has not been without controversy. He famously claimed in 2016 that health impacts of fracking were no worse in Weld County than in any other county in Colorado, and tangled with Republicans at the state Capitol over the Healthy Kids Survey and over his refusal to investigate a videotape that alleged Planned Parenthood was selling body parts from aborted fetuses.

Wolk becomes the sixth member of Hickenlooper’s cabinet to resign in the past year, a not-uncommon occurrence when a governor is ending his term of office.

His resignation comes on the heels of the recent departure of Hickenlooper’s budget director, Henry Sobanet; as well as resignations from Kim Hunter-Reed, who led the Colorado Department of Higher Education until leaving in mid-June to take a similar job in Lousiana; Sue Birch, who left the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing last October; Shailen Bhatt, who led the Colorado Department of Transportation until last December; Ellen Golombek, who left the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment last November; and Barbara Brohl, who stepped down from the state Department of Revenue one year ago.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.