Ever since Dr. Olivia Kasirye left her job as Public Health Officer (PHO) in February to work for Sacramento County, El Dorado County has been without a full-time person in the position.
However the county has not been left stranded because filling in part-time for the last six months as interim PHO has been Dr. Robert Hartmann.
A very busy man, Hartmann is also the public health officer for Amador, a position he has held for 13 years. He has a private practice in internal medicine as well.
A resident of Amador County, Hartmann has a one-year contract with the county and says he’s hopeful they will have someone on board by the time his contract is up next year.
He said when Kasirye left, El Dorado County only had a few weeks to find a replacement. But because of an existing memorandum of understanding between Amador and El Dorado in which they agreed to cover for each other, he was asked to fill in on a temporary basis.
Hartmann noted that El Dorado Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly and Joan Meis-Wilson, director of the Health Services Department, were both formerly with Amador County and were familiar with his work and so were comfortable with him serving as interim PHO.
To be a good PHO, Hartmann said takes someone with communicable disease and administrative background, since the person is involved in policy as well as clinical decisions. He said he gained his experience in public health by the “seat of the pants” when he worked in Appalachia for a period.
“Every day is an adventure in public health. You always have to be on your toes and attentive to specific issues that have the potential for becoming a communicable disease,” he noted.
In California, 75 diseases are tracked by health departments and Hartmann said they receive daily reports on the incidence of these diseases.
Diseases they pay particular attention to include rabies in animals, since it’s become rare for a person to contract rabies. ”We have a very good rabies control program in this country,” he said. He also noted that a few birds in El Dorado County have tested positive for West Nile Virus and there are a small number of cases of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases.
He said the most frequently reported communicable diseases are chlamydia and hepatitis C.
“There is a high level of the (hepatitis C) virus in the baby boomer generation,” he said, “which is tied to drug use. The virus attacks the liver and creates long-term problems. People got it from blood transfusions that were given before they screened for the virus, from intravenous drug use, sniffing cocaine, and occasionally from sexual activity. If untreated, it can settle into chronic hepatitis and then liver failure.”
In the meantime, Hartmann said the county is vigorously recruiting to find another PHO but the field is thin right now. Currently there are six counties in California with interim health directors and two counties have their PHO officers retiring soon, so there is a shortage of qualified people to fill the position.
“It takes someone who is interested in community medicine and who can make clinical judgments,” he said.
However, Hartmann said the county offers a lot of advantages to whoever is eventually hired. “The staff are excellent and good to work with. The lab and epidemiologist are superb. The new public health officer will have a good basis to get started on.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.