Minneapolis Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant, who served the city through the emergencies of the I-35W bridge collapse, the North Side tornado and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will retire by the end of the year.

Musicant has spent nearly 20 years at the helm of the city's Department of Health. She joined the city of Minneapolis staff in 1999 and a few years later was appointed to lead the Health Department by then-Mayor R.T. Rybak.

"Over my time at the city, I have had two-year terms," Musicant said in an interview. "I had to be reappointed through that process, many times through three mayors. It's been a joy to work for the city. I really loved it."

Musicant has gained praise from colleagues for her unusual approach to public health. In 2006 during a spike in violence similar to what Minneapolis is seeing now, Musicant and her team began to look at violence as a public health issue. They joined forces with criminal justice experts to introduce violence interrupters in the community and help find jobs and mentors for youth, as well as working with people injured by violence to get support after they leave the hospital.

And last year when the first surge of COVID-19 cases in Minneapolis struck neighborhoods of color the hardest, Musicant dispatched a team of health experts to deliver free masks and hand sanitizer, tapped community members to educate people about the virus and began contact-tracing and other targeted efforts to stem the spread of the virus. As a result, those neighborhoods experienced a major turnaround.

Mayor Jacob Frey got news of Musicant's departure just hours before he was declared a winner in the mayoral race Wednesday. In a statement, the mayor said Musicant "has been a steadfast leader of the Minneapolis Health Department through one of the most challenging chapters of our city's history."

"She has helped uphold our commitment to a data-first approach to keeping the people of Minneapolis healthy, with a particular focus on protecting our most vulnerable communities," Frey said. "After more than 20 years of service to the city, I know there are countless past and present colleagues who share my deep gratitude and profound respect for Musicant's dedicated service."

The city will undertake a competitive search for Musicant's replacement in the coming weeks, the mayor said.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203