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Kentucky lawmaker Ralph Alvarado to lead Tennessee Department of Health

Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado is filing legislation to expand a now-blocked tax-credit scholarship program.
Gage Skidmore
Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado is filing legislation to expand a now-blocked tax-credit scholarship program.

Republican State Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester has been appointed commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Health

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Alvarado’s appointment earlier this week. He will succeed Interim Commissioner Dr. Morgan McDonald and will begin his new position Jan. 16. 

In a press release announcing his appointment, Lee called Alvarado “a dedicated public servant.”

“Dr. Alvarado’s significant clinical and hospital management experience make him well-positioned to lead the Department of Health, and I appreciate his service to Tennesseans.”

Alvarado released his own statement about his new position. 

“It’s an honor to join Governor Lee’s team to advance health and prosperity for every Tennessean. I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to serving individuals and families across the Volunteer State,” the statement read.

He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Loma Linda University in California and completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of Kentucky.

Alvarado won his Senate seat in 2014, becoming the first Hispanic person elected to the Kentucky General Assembly. 

He chaired the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and is the CEO of Alvarado Medical Service, a health care organization. He is also co-chairman of the National Coalition of Physician Legislators and a member of Kentucky Right to Life.

Alvarado is a prominent Republican figure in the state, andwas former Gov. Matt Bevin’s running mate in his failed 2019 governor reelection bid.

Senate President Robert Stivers issued a statement on Alvarado’s departure and said Alvarado will remain in his position through the first week of the 2023 legislative Session and up until he resigns or takes his oath of office in Tennessee.

“Senator Alvarado has been among the most effective legislators in the Kentucky General Assembly, and we have leaned trustingly on his expertise and insight on health policy matters and so much more. His fingerprints are deeply embedded in the many successes Kentucky has experienced this past decade. We wish Ralph all the best in his transition to his new, high-profile role as commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health,” Stivers said in his statement.

Alvarado has also beenvocal about his support for bans on abortion. He introduced a measure in the 2020 coronavirus special session that said people who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies will count as being fully vaccinated, according to the state of Kentucky. The measure failed. 

Senate District 28, which includes parts of northern and eastern Fayette County, as well as the entirety of Bath, Clark, Menifee and Montgomery counties, will now have a vacancy due to Alvarado’s departure. A special election will be held for his seat.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.