County fires Brown, hires Interim Public Health Director

Paul Wertz

RIO GRANDE COUNTY- The Rio Grande Board of County Commissioners and Board of Health decided unanimously, Friday, May 22, to discharge current Public Health Director Emily Brown and hire an interim director to take over the department.

In an interview Monday, May 25, Rio Grande County Commissioner Chairman John Noffsker explained that the county wants to better serve the community of Rio Grande County by utilizing their resources in a more efficient manner. “We made our decision based on the need to have the public health department run more cooperatively, efficiently and effectively to strengthen our focus on the COVID-19 situation. We need to be provided accurate information and numbers and in order to achieve these objectives, the Public Health Department is being restructured to better address the crisis.”

County officials hired Public Health Nurse Paul Wertz as the interim Public Health Director Friday, May 22, and asked that he make his main focus to reassigning staff to more effectively utilize resources and providing accurate data to the board in a timely fashion. “There are only two nurses in the public health department. They need to give most of their efforts to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Through preliminary discussions, we were able to construct a tentative plan that would free up to eight hours a day for these nurses to efficiently work on active COVID-19 cases, testing and initial contact tracing while leaving other less urgent tasks to the remainder of the staff in the department,” said Noffsker.

“We were recently granted a variance through the State of Colorado. The variance is dependent on trigger points within our county. It is more important now than ever to receive accurate data on COVID-19 cases in the county in order to ensure the safety of our communities. The county has been challenged by conflicting and sometimes unreliable data that makes it difficult to make appropriate and coherent decisions. This restructuring is designed to rectify this problem.”

The county will also be working on phase two of their variance plan in the coming days; hoping to stay ahead of the curve and keep the county’s economy on the path to reopening. “We have no idea what it will look like at this juncture, we will be speaking with the various agencies and stakeholders while monitoring other counties throughout the state. It is also possible that in the coming week the Governor will be relaxing restrictions even further than what we already have in place. It is important for our constituents to know that we will adhere to the lesser restrictions as long as other circumstances do not force us to impose further restraints,” explained Noffsker.

Noffsker, speaking on behalf of the board, stated that the board is continuously working to see that the county is opening in a safe and timely manner. Though there are concerns about other possible restrictions, they will be dealing with the issues at hand. “Until those other issues, like vaccination or a resurgence of the virus are on our doorstep, we will focus on the challenges we have in our county for now but rest assured that if any other issues arise we will deal with those as well.”

The county is working closely with Saguache County to address the current outbreak at the Mountain King Spud Growers potato warehouse which dramatically increased the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Saguache and Rio Grande counties. With the intent of collecting more accurate data through the public health department, officials are optimistic that the county can continue to work on opening up more and more as time goes on.


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