October 10, 2008

Health Board Finds Two Finalists for Chief

By Eric Eyre

Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health members don't just want a new chief health officer who can manage the department's 45 employees, enforce the county's 3-month-old smoking ban and oversee the agency's expected move to a new headquarters site next year.

Board members also want a visionary, someone who can turn the Health Department into a model for health agencies across the nation to follow.

Sounds like a lot to ask, but the health board believes its found the man - or woman - for the job.

Two candidates have emerged as finalists in the board's search for a chief health officer/medical director. The board plans to hire someone for the job by the end of the month, and the new health chief would start work at the beginning of the year.

"I'm very pleased with both of them," said Brenda Isaac, president of the health board. "Both candidates have experience with public health at the local level. They both see Charleston as a pretty nice place to live."

Isaac declined to release the candidates' names this week, saying both finalists wanted additional time to notify their current employers about their interest in the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department job.

Isaac promised to name the finalists next week. Isaac said both candidates - a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s - are doctors. One finalist lives in Nashville, the other in Atlanta.

"They're old enough to have a good amount of experience," Isaac said. "Both are currently happy with their employment, but they're just looking for something different."

The health board plans to interview both candidates in the coming weeks. The finalists also will meet with Health Department staff members, and possibly the media, Isaac said.

"We have an excellent staff," Isaac said. "They're doing a good job, but they need a visionary to come in and help them move ahead."

The health chief's salary will be between $105,000 and $180,000. Former health officer Dr. Kerry Gateley was paid $163,192.

Gateley's replacement likely will take over a Health Department that faces considerably less controversy than when Gateley departed.

In May, Gateley abruptly resigned, citing his frustration with an ongoing political battle over moving the Health Department to make way for a new hotel in downtown Charleston.

Gateley and former health board President Dr. Steve Artz questioned Charleston Mayor Danny Jones' proposal to move the department to a city-owned warehouse building beside Appalachian Power Park.

Jones responded by yanking $100,000 from the Health Department's budget and declining to reappoint Artz to the board, a position the physician had held for more than 20 years.

The department's moving plans have been put on hold while the city searches for a developer to purchase the health agency property.

Meanwhile, Jones has restored the Health Department's funding.

Isaac said both candidates are aware of the department's previous spats with the city.

"One of the candidates reviewed a copy of Dr. Gateley's resignation letter," Isaac said. "She said she likes a challenge. In this job, you have to learn to work with the media and work with the politicians."

The two finalists were selected from a group of 12 applicants. No West Virginians applied for the job, Isaac said.

She said the board would expect the new health chief to develop a strategic plan for the agency. "I want to know they have a vision, that they are futuristic, that they want to make this Health Department a model in health and disease prevention and threat preparedness," Isaac said. "It takes a strong person at the helm to do that."

Reach Eric Eyre at [email protected] or 348-4869.

Originally published by Staff writer.

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