RIO GRANDE COUNTY- According to Rio Grande Board of County Commissioner Chairman John Noffsker, Interim Public Health Director Paul Wertz turned in his resignation during an executive session Wednesday, July 8, and then quit without notice the following day via email.
“We held an executive session to discuss the needs of the Public Health Department and were presented with a list of demands and ultimatums; and then Paul chose to quit without notice the next day. We, as a board, were only just hearing of the needs of the department and feel that we were responding as quickly as we heard of the issues which mainly have to do with the need for additional personnel and funding. We requested a list of needs and were working on accommodating those needs when he decided to quit.”
The email from Wertz dated July 9, 2020, and sent at 8 a.m. stated, “After our meeting yesterday and much thought, I have concluded that I do not have the boards support. Therefore I hereby resign as Interim Director of Public Health, effective immediately.” Wertz is quoted as stating that he felt he did not have the support of the board to efficiently do his job as Interim Public Health Director. During a work session held Monday, July 13, the board discussed the department’s needs with Public Health Nurse Dianne Koshak and Grant Management Administrator Toni Steffens-Steward.
Koshak explained the dire need of additional medical professionals, i.e., additional nurses and regular staff in order to devote time to the COVID-19 contact tracing and implored the board to hire at least one nurse to help with caseloads. The board quickly agreed and asked that an advertisement for an additional nurse be placed in as many employment platforms as possible.
The board then turned to Steffens-Steward for comment on how she could potentially help with administrative needs while the county takes the time to find an adequate Public Health Director. “Let me begin by expressing my concerns and then we can discuss what I can do for the department. First off, I think that the board should not hire a director right away. I think it is important to take the time to find someone who is going to stay. The Public Health employees and nurses are overwhelmed, and I think getting someone who may just leave will only add to the stress rather than fix it.”
Steffens-Steward continued to state that the they needed to schedule a meeting to sit down and discuss all of the funding that passes through the department due to the fact that almost all of the funding that aids Public Health and its programs comes from grants. “I am really excited to begin working on the grant management and get things organized for our county. I can take on some of the administrative duties that the Interim Director position would have for the time being and I would ask that the board would allow me performing these duties for at least six months while we look for a qualified director.”
The board opted to make an administrative decision during the work session to place Steffens-Steward into an administrative position in the Public Health Department and to begin the process of stabilizing the department while they seek additional nurses, staff and ultimately a new director.