Montgomery’s health officer role will be split into two positions

The Montgomery County health officer role will be split into two positions: chief of public health and new chief of public health services, under a bill passed unanimously by the county council on Tuesday and supported by County Executive Marc Elrich.

The creation of a second position is indicative of the extensive responsibilities the county has in public health – which have become more visible since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – and in the administration of health services to many communities within the county, officials say.

The move “only reflects reality on the ground,” as the county’s public health needs increase due to needs related to COVID-19 and existing health inequalities, said County Board Member Gabe Albornoz (D-At- large), who sponsored the legislation on Elrich’s behalf.

James Bridgers, as confirmed by the County Council, will earn $196,000 a year in his new position. Kisha Davis, the county health officer, was hired at an annual salary of $200,000 and started in December.

Travis Gayles, the former county health officer, received an annual salary of $229,000 when he stepped down, and county officials said they would offer up to $250,000 for the health officer position after that point.

Initially, Elrich’s office and board members wanted to remove the requirement that the county health officer, or that person’s deputy, be a licensed physician. This was because county officials initially had difficulty filling the position of health officer.

But county officials have since decided to split the health officer into two larger positions.

The county public health officer will work on high-level public health goals among county divisions, Montgomery County public schools and nonprofits and partner organizations working with the government of the county, according to previously reports. county, Bethesda Beat previously reported.

Chief of Public Health Services Division will focus on operations of Montgomery Cares (providers providing health services to uninsured adults throughout the county), School Health Services, Refugee Health Clinics, HIV and STD clinics, and various others programs.

The council unanimously approved two amendments on Tuesday: One stated that the head of public health services is also a deputy health officer. The other, introduced by Council Deputy Chairman Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), said the health officer, in the current structure, should still be a licensed physician: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or MD osteopathic (DO).

Friedson said during Tuesday’s meeting that although county officials were initially seeking to remove the requirement, splitting the health officer’s job into two positions has changed the scope of the problem. That meant it should remain in place in county and state law, he said.

Earl Stoddard, assistant chief administrative officer of the county, agreed. During Tuesday’s meeting, he said it is preferable that someone leading several health agencies in the county be a licensed physician and that they hope there will be no problems in the future with trying to hire a health officer.

James Bridgers, who is not a doctor but has a masters in health education and a PhD. in family science, served as the interim county health officer after Travis Gayles resigned in September 2021. Several board members and officials within Elrich’s administration said Bridgers was actually working at least two jobs : that of interim health officer and supervisor of public health services, although the latter position had not been created before Tuesday.

Bridgers was interviewed Tuesday by board members for the position of head of public health services. Elrich recommended for the appointment with a salary of $196,000, according to council personnel documents.

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