DENVER (Feb. 8, 2024) — Today, Governor Jared Polis announced Dannette R. Smith as the Commissioner of the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA).
“Expanding access to the behavioral healthcare Coloradans need continues to be a top priority for my administration, and we are excited that Dannette can help us achieve our vision. Throughout her 30-year career, Dannette has been a fierce advocate for accessible behavioral healthcare, a well-respected problem-solver, and a steady leader. I am confident that under her leadership, BHA will continue helping Coloradans access the high-quality care they deserve,” said Governor Polis. “I want to thank Michelle Barnes for stepping into this role and bringing her expertise and leadership to BHA as Interim Commissioner. Michelle’s commitment continues to help Colorado achieve our goals, and I am grateful for her dedicated public service.”
This appointment was informed by extensive stakeholder feedback across from the state and reflects the Governor’s commitment to bringing transformational change to Colorado’s Behavioral Health System. Under Commissioner Smith’s leadership, BHA will remain focused on increasing access to quality behavioral health services in Colorado by engaging diverse community groups and providers to expand services and recruiting and retaining a talented workforce. Incoming Commissioner Smith will begin her role on March 18, 2024. At that time, Interim Commissioner Michelle Barnes will be returning to her role as Executive Director of the Department of Human Services.
“The Governor and his administration have laid a strong foundation for behavioral healthcare, and I look forward to using my experience to build on this good work and continue expanding services in Colorado. I’m excited to get to work to help break down barriers to care for Coloradans, and bring the Governor’s vision for a Colorado For All to life,” said Commissioner Smith.
Commissioner Smith has spent 30 years serving families, children, the aging population, and people experiencing homelessness. She’s led human services departments across the country, most recently serving nearly five years as the Chief Executive Officer at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services where she led five divisions: Behavioral Health, Children and Family Services, Developmental Disabilities, Medicaid & Long-Term Care, and Public Health.
During her tenure in Nebraska, Smith convened a statewide behavioral health task force; focused on opportunities to improve behavioral health services for adults and children, as well as initiated the exploration of Medicaid utilization as a payer for behavioral health services; and redesigned the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center system to include intensive clinical and therapeutic services in the juvenile justice system. While in Virginia Beach, she collaborated with the Sheriff’s Office to provide enhanced behavioral health services in the jail system and provided strategic oversight in the development of the “First Responders” initiative to provide behavioral health services in the community with the Virginia Beach Police Department as part of their service calls.
The 2023 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), Commissioner Smith holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois Chicago. She’s also completed the Kennedy School of Government, Child Welfare Executive Leadership Program at Harvard.