After Dr. Sherri Young resigned as health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department in June, the agency is no closer to permanently filling the role.
Young is currently serving as interim health officer until someone is hired. The KCHD board of governors is in charge of the hiring process.
Jeremy Nelson, newly appointed board president, said since the position was posted in July on a national job site for health officers, only one person has applied.
“They were not qualified,” he said.
Right now, Nelson said, there is “no way of telling” when the position will be permanently filled.
“We’re searching locally, high and low to fill this role,” Nelson said. “We’re incredibly thankful that Dr. Young is willing to continue her work here as well as her work at [Charleston Area Medical Center].”
Robbie Queen, head of operations at the health department, said there weren’t many concerns at the agency about the health officer position remaining unfilled, even as COVID-19 cases have continued to surge in recent weeks.
The work already in place by the county’s unified health command to combat COVID-19 has made the transitional period run smooth, he said.
“From my perspective, no, we don’t have any concerns,” Queen said. “One good thing we have learned from the pandemic is that you don’t have to be at a desk to do a good job. That’s what [Dr. Young] is exemplifying. She’s not missing calls. We’re doing the same work here today.”
Young said she splits her time between CAMC, where she was hired following her resignation in the summer, and the health department, where she commits about 33 hours a week.
It’s a manageable responsibility, Young said. Since she spent more than a year responding to the pandemic, many of the responsibilities are like second nature.
“What it took me, us, 100 hours to do last year as we were figuring everything out, it now takes maybe three hours. Less, even,” Young said. “That’s in part due to the health command. We built everything for this response, so many protocols. We had to do it all so intricately from the ground up, and now it’s habit, almost.”
It is not an easy job, though, Young said. Public health officials have long been harassed for doing their jobs, and the pandemic has not only increased the demands they face, but pushed them into the spotlight.
“Often you’re working for lower pay, being publicly attacked. You’re giving up your personal life, time with your family, a sense of calm,” Young said. “It’s such important work, but yes, it can be soul crushing.”
But it’s necessary work too, Young said, and there are upsides.
“You have incredible support from the people you work with,” Young said. “You’re working to save lives, and you’re doing it together.”