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Montgomery County could have a new health officer in place by the end of October, according to Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Crowel told the County Council on Tuesday that County Executive Marc Elrich will interview a prospective candidate for its health officer position in the next few weeks. James Bridgers has been serving in an acting capacity since Travis Gayles resigned as health officer last September.

Bridgers cannot serve as permanent health officer because he doesn’t have the qualifications required by state law. Maryland law requires that if the health officer in Montgomery County is not a physician, then the deputy health officer must be one. That means that the person must hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. 

Bridgers, who served as deputy under Gayles, has neither.

Since Gayles resigned, three candidates have gone through the interview process with the county, but later decided to withdraw — some because of the political pressures facing health officers, and others for different logistical reasons like relocating.

Crowel said in an interview Tuesday that the current candidate is located in the greater Washington, D.C. region, but declined to provide any other details.

He said he and other senior officials within DHHS have interviewed the candidate. If Elrich approves of the selected candidate, then the county would ask Dennis Schrader, the state’s secretary of health, to approve the applicant, Crowel added.

If the state approves Elrich’s choice, the County Council will decide whether to hire the candidate, he said. Previously, county officials have offered a salary of around $250,000 for the position.

Crowel quipped that he wished the county had hired a new health officer “yesterday,” but quickly added that a new hire could be in place by mid- to late October, at the earliest. 

The health officer position needs to be a champion of public health and understand how doing so involves dealing with a range of issues from homelessness and diseases to social determinants that impact public health outcomes, Crowel said.

“COVID is still a big part of the job, but it’s the other pieces that are just as important, and represent the requirements of the position,” Crowel said.