Haslam Names Marie Williams Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Williams Has Served in Department for 16 Years
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of Marie Williams as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services effective October 22. Williams will replace Commissioner Doug Varney who announced his retirement last week.
Williams, 51, started with the department in 2000 and has served as deputy commissioner since 2011, directly managing the department’s daily operations and budget. As deputy commissioner, Williams has overseen a transformation in the mental health system in east Tennessee to better serve long-term patients by transitioning them into community-based programs. She also helped create the department’s Prescription for Success multi-faceted strategy to tackle the prescription drug epidemic in Tennessee.
“Marie’s passion for helping the mentally ill, the homeless and those with drug and alcohol addictions inspires her to create innovative, high-impact programs that make a difference,” Haslam said. “Marie has the experience and the drive to continue the progress made to help some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Prior to her appointment as deputy commissioner, Williams served as assistant commissioner of mental health services. Under her leadership, the division implemented a behavior health safety net program that provides services for those withdrawn from TennCare. She also created the award-winning “Creating Homes Initiative” that to date has developed more than 13,500 supportive housing options for Tennesseans diagnosed with mental illness disorders, allowing them to live in, thrive in and contribute to their communities in the least restrictive settings.
“I am honored and grateful that Governor Haslam asked me to join his team as Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and look forward to continuing the transformative work that started under his and Commissioner Varney's leadership,” Williams said. “Our great staff will continue to work in partnership with our state agency partners, community behavioral health providers, consumers and family members to create paths of recovery and healing for Tennesseans struggling with substance use and mental health diagnosis, ensuring that we provide the right treatment at the right place and right time through low-cost high impact programs.”
Williams has also served as a Community Builder Fellow with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), director of homeless services for Catholic Charities of Memphis, and led the Homeless Services at the Midtown Mental Health Center in Memphis. She is the co-author and creator of the professional publication, Out of Poverty, a group-based peer and mentor training program to help people escape the cycle of poverty that is currently being implemented in communities across the country.
A licensed clinical social worker, Williams has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Austin Peay State University.
Williams has one adult daughter and resides in Nashville.