This story was updated at 11 p.m. Aug. 26, 2021, to include comments from Dr. Travis Gayles and Dr. Raymond Crowel.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, who announced last week he is leaving his post, is headed to a national software company specializing in telehealth for students.
Hazel Health, a San Francisco-based company, is the largest telehealth provider for K-12 schools across the United States, according to its website. Gayles will serve as the company’s chief health officer.
He will focus on leading the company to help combat “an alarming rise in pediatric mental health cases” since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a news release.
Gayles wrote in an email on Thursday, responding to questions from Bethesda Beat, that as chief health officer for Hazel Health, he will “provide oversight of the clinical vision/framework of the company as well as thought leadership related to clinical and public health related issues.”
The role will give him a chance to try to lessen the gap in health care for kids, especially with mental health issues highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic.
“At every step of my career, I have worked to address issues of access to high quality care, whether through a research lens, clinical practice, or public health advocacy,” Gayles wrote. “This opportunity presents the chance to bring all of those experiences to a national platform to improve access to care for children across the country, and potentially change the way pediatric health care is delivered.”
Gayles announced in an email last week to County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council members that he was resigning from his position as the county’s health officer, effective Sept. 12.
He has been a focal point of Montgomery County’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, receiving strong praise from Elrich and other elected leaders and pointed criticism from some in the community.
He had a back-and-forth battle with Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration over Gayles’ decision to close in-person instruction for private schools. Gayles later rescinded that order.
Gayles wrote in the email that despite the attacks and negativity, he stands by his work and is excited to move into an “amazing opportunity with a bigger scope and potential impact.”
In a news briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Gayles thanked the county executive and other elected officials for following the science and data during the pandemic, despite the criticism.
Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said Gayles will be a great fit in his new role at Hazel Health, given his talent in medicine and science.
Crowel said in an interview Thursday that the importance of Gayles’ new role is heightened, given how the coronavirus pandemic has affected kids — through isolation, other mental health problems and the trauma they might have experienced.
He said the criticism and attacks toward Gayles might have played some role in his decision to leave.
“Dr. Gayles stayed through the worst phases, and stayed with us for a long time,” Crowel said. “I know, like all of us, he was tired. I don’t know to what degree that played in his decision … to move to something new. I know that he saw the offer, saw the opportunity, and it was something he didn’t feel he could turn away from at this point.”
When asked how his role as the county’s health officer prepared him for his new job at Hazel Health, Gayles listed three main reasons. First, he wrote, it’s important to have a strong team, and have buy-in from communities willing to work with multiple public health officials for the good of all.
Second, Gayles wrote, it’s important for those communities to have an opportunity to provide meaningful feedback, to help guide the expertise of public health officials. Third, it is important to document and track gaps in health outcomes and access to health care, to close those gaps in the years ahead, he wrote.
“We must also be forward thinking and innovative in creating approaches to address these gaps, so that they don’t continue to exist for years to come or if we are impacted by another pandemic in the future,” he wrote.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org