Dr. Nathan Chomilo, a respected Twin Cities pediatrician and internist, has been named the state's new Medicaid medical director by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).

It is the latest hire by Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, who took the helm at DHS in September, as she fills out her leadership team at an agency racked by turmoil earlier this year.

Chomilo, who practices in the Park Nicollet health system, is one of the founders of Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity and was a highly visible advocate in the community and at the 2019 Legislature for improved health care for disadvantaged populations.

"I see a lot of promise in Medicaid to address some of the deep racial inequities we see in Minnesota," Chomilo said in an interview. "In place of advocacy work, I will be working on the inside to make change happen."

The Medicaid medical director reviews clinical evidence to guide decisions about coverage policies, quality of care programs and other health initiatives. In Minnesota, Medicaid is the insurance program for 1.1 million residents.

Chomilo replaces Dr. Jeffrey Schiff, who lost his job earlier this year in a restructuring that split his full-time position into two separate jobs. Chomilo will work part time as medical director, joined by a part-time director for behavioral health care who has not yet been hired.

Chomilo said he wants to continue the "great work" of his predecessor, including Schiff's leadership in a coordinated effort to change opioid prescribing practices in the state.

Dr. Chris Johnson, an Allina Health physician who chairs the department's opioid work group, also was part of a group that advised DHS on the position's candidates.

"We found a candidate with a strong public health background who saw the systemic problems in health care delivery that leads to disparities," said Johnson. "I am very heartened and encouraged" by his selection.

Chomilo will also oversee programs to reduce adverse birth outcomes among American Indian and U.S.-born African-American women and finding ways to address social risk factors that affect health, the department said. Chomilo will continue seeing patients.

He will also relinquish his role as medical director for Reach Out and Read Minnesota, a program that helps incorporate books into pediatric care and encourages families to read aloud together. He will remain on the organization's board.

Two weeks ago Harpstead named Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa as the new assistant commissioner for community supports. DHS has yet to announce appointees for a permanent assistant commissioner for health care and a new deputy commissioner position that will oversee legislative relations, communications and external relations.