Adam Meier speaks to a legislative committee in June 2022.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Adam Meier will leave his position in August, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said Thursday. He will be replaced by Charlie Brereton, the governor’s former top health adviser, who has been serving as the health agency’s chief of staff since December.

Meier’s exit is being attributed to “an ongoing family health issue,” according to the press release sent by the governor’s press secretary, Brooke Stroyke, Thursday morning.

“Adam’s expertise, leadership, and heart for public service have been outstanding assets to our administration and the people of Montana,” Gianforte said in the prepared statement. “Under Adam’s leadership, DPHHS has closed critical gaps in treatment for Montanans struggling with addiction, reorganized itself to better serve the people of Montana, and promoted the role of parents as the ultimate decisionmakers on matters pertaining to the health of their children — all while leading the state’s response to a global pandemic. I appreciate his many contributions and innovative ideas.”

Stroyke directed further questions about Meier’s family health issues to the health department’s spokesman, Jon Ebelt. Ebelt did not immediately respond to emailed questions Thursday morning.

Meier, who relocated to Montana from Kentucky to head the state’s largest agency in February of 2021, has also faced challenges at the health department, including the loss of federal funding for the state’s public psychiatric hospital in Warm Springs as a result of safety issues identified by inspectors with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. 

Brereton joined the Gianforte administration in January 2021, where he helped steer the governor’s health and human services priorities through last year’s legislative session. After Brereton transitioned to his role as chief of staff, Ebelt told Montana Free Press in an April email that he had been picked following “a competitive hiring process.” 

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At the time, Ebelt said Brereton’s role included supervising “new and existing external affairs personnel and provid[ing] policy, operations, and management support to the Department alongside the Director.”

“As part of the position’s external affairs component, Charlie continues to serve as both the liaison to the Governor’s Office for DPHHS and lead for the Governor on health and human services policy,” Ebelt said in the April email.

Announcing Brereton as Meier’s successor, Gianforte touted his track record within the administration and the health agency.

“Adam’s right hand and my trusted health policy advisor in the governor’s office for the last 18 months, Charlie will make an exceptional director of our state’s largest agency,” Gianforte said. “Charlie has a knack for leadership and a superior ability to develop relationships, building consensus on complex issues. I look forward to continuing to benefit from his expertise, counsel, and hard work in this new role.”

Brereton expressed excitement about his new role in the release from the governor’s office. 

“It’s an honor to serve the people of Montana as director of DPHHS and build upon the progress we’ve made to efficiently and effectively serve Montanans, expand their access to high-quality, affordable health care, and promote their health, well-being, self-reliance, and freedoms,” Brereton said. “Our work has only begun, and I look forward to driving the administration’s health and human services objectives alongside our dedicated team at the department.”

Prior to joining the administration, Brereton served as a part of a health policy team for Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. Brereton also worked as a public policy adviser for the global law firm Squire Patton Boggs LLP.

The leadership handover is set to take effect Aug. 12.

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.