By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- The former chief operating officer of a Dorchester public health program will oversee the state's medical marijuana program as its executive director.
Karen van Unen was introduced Monday by the state Department of Public Health as executive director of the program, and will play a major role in the selection of marijuana dispensary licensees.
According to the department, van Unen's duties will include "overseeing all aspects of the medical marijuana program, from the inspection of dispensaries, to the creation of a patient and caregiver registration database that will be operational later this year."
Van Unen was chief operating officer at DotWell in Dorchester, which coordinates community and public health programs for more than 40,000 individuals. She is also a board member and past president of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, and has consulted for DPH over the medical marijuana program's development. On LinkedIn, she lists herself as a director of Children's Hospital Boston from September 2000 to November 2004 and as a practice manager at Faulkner Breast Center for five years in the 1990s.
A selection committee convened by DPH plans this month to present to van Unen its final recommendations on registered marijuana dispensary applications. One hundred applicants are competing for up to 35 non-profit dispensary licenses under a program set up following passage of a voter referendum legalizing medical marijuana. State officials must award at least one but no more than five dispensaries per county.
The selection committee will recommend which dispensaries receive licenses, and van Unen will have final signoff on the recommendation, according to a DPH official.
The committee is reviewing and scoring applicants based on factors such as appropriateness of the site, geographical distribution of dispensaries, and the applicant's ability to meet the overall health needs of registered patients while ensuring public safety, according to the department. Also, applicants have been asked to demonstrate local support during the review process, and must show that they can comply with all municipal rules, regulations, ordinances and bylaws.
In a statement, DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett said van Unen's "management expertise in public health and commitment to safety and patient access will successfully guide the implementation of the Commonwealth's medical marijuana program."
The selection committee members are Madeleine Biondolillo, associate commissioner and bureau director, Health Care Safety and Quality, Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Todd Brown, executive director, Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association; John Carmichael Jr., deputy police chief, Walpole Police Department; Suzanne Cray, deputy chief of staff, Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Georgia Simpson May, director, Office of Health Equity, Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Louise Rice, public health consultant; former senior director of Public Health Nursing and School Health Services, Cambridge Public Health Department; and Cheryl Anne Sbarra, senior staff attorney, Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.