2022 | Government

Montgomery County again searching for health officer after candidate withdraws

Candidate, the third to withdraw, was awaiting confirmation by state

share this

Getty Images

This story was updated at 3:35 p.m. May 17, 2022, to include comment by Raymond Crowel. It was updated at 12:55 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, 2022, to correct details about Maryland law. 

Another candidate for the county’s health officer vacancy has withdrawn from consideration from the position.

Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, sent a memo to County Council President Gabe Albornoz on Monday indicating that the current candidate — who was awaiting confirmation by the Maryland secretary of health — had decided not to further pursue the opening. The candidate was the third to withdraw from consideration since the county began seeking a new health officer after Travis Gayles resigned from the post last year. 

“At the heart of this decision are personal matters that recently emerged which make it difficult for this candidate to fully focus on a new role or relocate to a new state,” Crowel wrote.

“The candidate shared that while at least one other jurisdiction has made an offer, Montgomery County was the preferred choice, stressing that the interviews at both State and County levels contributed to a sense that the role represents a great opportunity,” Crowel added.

In an interview Tuesday, Crowel said the candidate’s decision was “disappointing and frustrating.” He insisted the applicant’s decision primarily was not based on concern about the political climate surrounding public health officers and the coronavirus pandemic, but rather the ability of the candidate, who lives outside of the Mid-Atlantic region, to relocate and to do so in a timely manner. 

Crowel added that candidates, including this one, have said, however, that the overall responsibility of a public health officer does carry more stress than a similar position in the private sector, Crowel added.

“The consistent thread is this is a stressful job, and it has been revealed to be even more stressful across the country [in recent years],” Crowel said.

The county has been searching for a new health officer since Gayles left in September to take a role with a telehealth company that works for K-12 schools nationwide. James Bridgers, who was deputy health officer, has been serving as acting health officer since then.

Crowel said Tuesday that he expects that it would be at least a few more months until the position is filled, and he and colleagues are speaking with County Executive Marc Elrich about the next steps. If the state approves the county’s next selection, then Elrich would ask the County Council for final approval. 

Gayles was paid an annual salary of $229,000 when he resigned. The county had been offering a salary of up to $250,000 for his replacement, Bethesda Beat previously reported. 

Crowel could not say exactly what the county was offering the most recent candidate, but said the $250,000 salary listing was around the maximum that would be offered. He added, however, that because the county health officer also serves as a deputy health officer with the state, more than half of the position’s annual salary is paid with state dollars. 

When Gayles left, the state was covering roughly 80% of his salary, Crowel said. The state decides how much to fund, depending on the salary that the county and state offer a health officer candidate, he added.

In addition to signing health orders and offering recommendations related to the coronavirus, the health officer also signs medical orders that allow the county to run testing and vaccination clinics, and to provide prescriptions like naloxone.

Because Bridgers is not a licensed physician, the county has needed to get the Prince George’s County health officer to sign off on those medical orders, Crowel said. 

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 they must have a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Bridgers, who served as deputy under Gayles, has neither.

Crowel added that whoever accepts the health officer position will take over Bridgers’ current responsibilities in providing coronavirus pandemic-related guidance, along with trying to address health care inequities that were present before COVID-19 began spreading in the country in 2020.

That includes maintaining the county’s health services and provided integrated health care in various settings in multiple communities of need countywide, Crowel said.  

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