Marguerite Salazar dies at age 69
She leaves a legacy of commitment to the well-being of others
ALAMOSA — Marguerite Salazar, respected leader, advocate and – as described by some — a “force all of her own,” died on Nov. 1. She was 69 years old.
An alumni of Adams State University, where she received both her bachelor of arts and master's degrees in counseling psychology, Salazar devoted her life to the service of others. For 25 years, she was with Valley-Wide Health Systems, the last 20 spent at the helm as CEO and president of one of the largest rural healthcare systems in the nation.
During those years, Salazar also served as president of the board of directors of Colorado’s Community Health Network and CCHN’s Public Affairs Committee. CCHN, is comprised of 20 community health centers throughout the state. is guided by a mission to increase high-quality healthcare access to people in need in Colorado.
Salazar was also appointed twice to Colorado’s Medical Services Board, which oversees rules for state health care programs. In 2009, she was awarded the Aaron L. Brown Memorial Public Service Award, presented by the National Association of Community Health Centers to individuals who have made significant contributions to the community health field in public policy.
Upon her resignation from Valley-Wide Health Systems in 2010, CCHN’s board of directors designated April 30 as “Marguerite Salazar Day” in recognition of the good work and contribution made by all in the community health network.
As significant as her tenure was at Valley-Wide, Salazar left for a position that provided an even greater opportunity to serve others in a leadership role with an even larger role.
In 2010, Salazar was appointed by President Barak Obama to serve as the Region 8 Regional Director for the Department of Health and Human Services. In that capacity, she was charged with overseeing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in six states: Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota.
In 2013, after serving as the Region 8 regional director at HHS, Salazar was appointed Colorado Insurance Commissioner by then-Governor John Hickenlooper, a role in which, as was reported in the Valley Courier, “she worked to bring an inclusive and fair-minded regulatory approach to insurance, including health insurance.”
As Colorado Insurance Commissioner, Salazar oversaw the regulation of the insurance industry in Colorado via the Division of Insurance, one of the nine divisions within Department of Regulatory Agencies.
In that role, she soon learned that under the ACA insurance premiums in four mountain resort counties were among the highest in the nation. As a result, she redrew the districts.
"It’s about fairness," Salazar was quoted as saying in a May 2014 story by National Public Radio. “When we put (the resort counties) together, we didn't know what the difference and disparity was going to be. We found out pretty quick."
Four years later, Hickenlooper appointed Salazar as the new executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
DORA encompasses nine divisions: banking, civil rights, financial services, insurance, professions and occupations, real estate, securities, the Office of Consumer Counsel and the Public Utilities Commission. Salazar’s functions as executive director included administrative oversight as well as the Colorado Office of Policy, Research & Regulatory Reform and the Broadband Fund.
“Few are more deserving and capable of this position than Marguerite,” said Hickenlooper in his announcement. “She has guided the Division of Insurance through a time of great change in our country and has helped Colorado be a leader in the industry. Her experience in one of the agency’s divisions provides a steady and guiding hand during this time of transition.”
Salazar remained in that position for roughly the next two years before being recruited in January of 2019 by newly elected Governor of New Mexico Michelle Lujan Grisham. Salazar took over New Mexico’s Regulation and Licensing Department which administers credentials for a long list of professions, regulates local lending institutions, issues building permits and safeguards consumers from securities fraud, among other duties.
Salazar was still serving in that role when she died.
“I don’t know anyone who was more committed to our community than Marguerite Salazar,” Hickenlooper said in a statement regarding her death. “She and her husband lived and breathed the wellbeing of Southern Colorado. Her death is a huge loss for our state.”
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet echoed that sentiment.
“Colorado lost an advocate and a champion for rural health care in Marguerite Salazar,” Bennet said. “She served as one of HHS’ first Latina regional administrators and taught me so much about the health care needs of rural Colorado and the San Luis Valley.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser remembered Salazar fondly, as well.
“Marguerite Salazar was a true leader who cared about her community, a tremendous public servant, and a good friend,” Weiser said. “Her memory will live on as a blessing.”