Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the county has its tentative choice for the next health officer and has sent the person’s name to the state Department of Health to review.

Elrich did not say much on Wednesday about the candidate, other than that the person has the experience and qualifications to lead the county through the rest of the coronavirus pandemic, and beyond.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview that the department recently sent Elrich a list of names for him to consider. She said she could not say how many people were sent for consideration. 

Elrich picked one person to send to the Maryland secretary of health for approval, because the county health officer is a joint state-county appointment, Anderson said.

After that, Elrich’s pick would go to the County Council for final confirmation, like other appointment processes, she said.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s former health officer, announced his resignation in August, and left the post in September. He now works at Hazel Health, the largest telehealth provider for K-12 schools across the United States.

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Gayles said he faced homphobic and racist remarks and threats from some people because of his decisions during the coronavirus pandemic. He described those comments at a bill hearing in Annapolis earlier this year, for legislation that would offer protections to local health officers.

Since Gayles’ resignation, James Bridgers has been acting health officer. Bridgers was deputy health officer under Gayles. 

The county has been searching for a permanent health officer since mid-September, when Gayles left.

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Elrich and health officials have said that two finalists were close to becoming the new health officer, but later dropped out. Anderson declined to say on Wednesday where those people were in the process, citing that it is a county personnel decision.

County officials said at the time that the current political climate was part of the decision that the finalists decided to withdraw from the process.

Under state law, Montgomery County must send any prospective applicants for the health officer position to the state Department of Health, for its review.

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Andy Owen, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, declined to comment on Wednesday on the health officer position, directing questions to the county.

Elrich did not have an exact timeline on when the state might decide on the county’s choice, but added: “We would like it to be pretty quick.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com 

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