On Friday, June 3, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced they appointed Patty Hayes Director of Public Health. Director Hayes appointed Dr. Jeffrey Duchin to the position of Health Officer. This two-person “dyad” leadership model, with a director and a health officer, is a shift for our department.
We asked Jeff and Patty to weigh in on how their roles will differ – and how they will work together.
First of all, how does someone become the director and the health officer? What’s the process?
PH: The Mayor and the Executive have to agree on the appointee, and then the appointment has to be approved by both the City and County Councils. From there, the director is able to designate the health officer. Both of us had been acting in an interim capacity.
How would you each describe your roles?
PH: As director of the department, I focus on administrative and financial issues. I set the direction for the department, and I work with the Executive’s office and the Mayor, as well as the Washington State Association of Public Health Officials. I will lead the work related to the transformation plan – the integration of health and human services – will also continue to be the face of Best Starts for Kids within Public Health. I’ll work to implement the strategies and policies that are based on Jeff’s scientific expertise.
JD: Core Washington State health officer job responsibilities and authorities are outlined by the Washington Administrative Code. They include preventing and responding to communicable diseases and environmental hazards, conducting investigations and instituting disease control measures and responding to public health emergencies. An important part of my job is to support the Department’s outstanding teams in their work and to ensure our surveillance and epidemiology, disease prevention and health promotion and emergency response activities are based on the best available evidence and science.
I will also work closely with Patty and Department leadership to set the strategic direction for the department and develop policy options to promote the best possible health and health equity for King County residents. Another key role is that I’ll be our primary spokesperson on health and medical issues and liaison with the healthcare community and the University of Washington. I’ll also be working with other local health officers and Washington State DOH on a variety of issues germane to the health officer roles and responsibilities. And finally, I’ll be continuing to oversee the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section, although with less involvement in that Section’s day-to-day operations.
PH: Though we hope our roles will be clear to folks, we also stress that both of our doors are open – and neither door is wrong. We will work so closely together that it won’t matter who you approach.
It sounds like collaboration is key. Can you give an example of how you two will tackle a problem together?
PH: Recently, we became aware of the serious problem of children getting ahold of marijuana “edibles” and distributing and eating them at schools. Jeff and his team researched the evidence around impacts of child consumption of marijuana edibles, and looked to other examples around the country for best practices to prevent it from occurring. I worked with our Board of Health Administrator to explore legal options for addressing the problem. Jeff and I came together to present all of our findings and recommendations to the Chair of the Board of Health.
JD: At the end of the day, we both understand that good communication is critical to successful dyad leadership, and we have a strong working relationship. We know we will need to actively work to keep one another informed, especially given the large number of important ongoing activities the Department is engaged in every day as well as the steady occurrence of new and unanticipated events. We also know that with this new model there will be bumps in the road and we welcome and value feedback on how we can be more clear and/or effective in supporting our colleagues in the Department and our key partners in the community. If folks aren’t sure about something, please come forward and let us know. We’ll do our best to clarify situations and approach solutions together.
Congratulations to both Patty and Jeff! We are proud to have such strong leadership in our department and look forward to seeing their vision unfold.