The executive director of a nonprofit emergency shelter for people struggling with substance abuse has been hired as Portland’s next director of public health.

Bob Fowler has been the executive director at Milestone Recovery for the past six years. The agency provides shelter and other addiction recovery services.

Before that, he worked at Sweetser and Community Counseling Center and operated his own private mental health and consulting practice.

“It’s part of what attracted me to the position,” Fowler said of taking over the department in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It just seems critically important, in light of the fact that COVID is our reality. I have worked in the community for quite a long time and I have a lot of established relationships in the community with community providers and I feel like I’m in a good position to be able to advance the work of the department and the city and to coordinate services between all the different entities.”

Leaving Milestone for his new position is bittersweet, Fowler said.

Fowler will be taking over for Bridget Rauscher and Alex Hughes, who served as co-interim directors of the public health division since the previous director, Dr. Kolawole Bankole, left in December 2019. He had served in the role since March, 2017.

“Bob is a skilled and respected leader in our community,” Kristen Dow, director of the Portland’s Health & Human Services Department said in a written announcement Tuesday. “I’m excited to have him on board to lead our public health efforts in Portland.”

The public health department is now focused on COVID-19, but also continues to work on chronic disease and substance use prevention, family health, health equity and research, and infectious disease prevention and treatment, the city said.

The department employs 31 people and has a $2.1 million operating budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

Fowler has a master’s degree in public policy and management from the University of Southern Maine, a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Albany and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont.

Fowler will begin in his new role on Aug. 17 and earn $104,072 annually.

Milestone’s Board of Directors praised Fowler for his leadership and said it is evaluating next steps to fill the position.

“He has been a tireless advocate for the organization and dedicated his talent to further enhance Milestone’s client programs and community partnerships. As difficult as this announcement is, our remaining staff at Milestone is well prepared to continue building upon the strong foundation Bob has laid and continue our important mission,” Board President Mike Miles said in a written statement.


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