Behavioral Health Director Ebony Clarke will assume the role of interim director of the Health Department on Dec. 16 as Director Patricia Charles-Heathers, Ph.D., steps down for family reasons.
Chair Deborah Kafoury announced the change Nov. 19 in an email to county staff.
“I want to thank Dr. Charles-Heathers for her service to the County and her work to create an integrated and well-designed Health Department and to champion the Workforce Equity Strategic Plan,” Kafoury wrote.
Charles-Heathers was appointed in February 2019, after serving as director of El Dorado County’s Health and Human Services Agency. At Multnomah County, Charles-Heathers focused on adopting a new vision, mission and values statement for the Health Department, implementing an Equity Leadership Program to support the County’s Workforce Equity Strategic Plan, and supporting increased diversity among Corrections Health staff.
Then COVID-19 struck.
“This year has been a difficult one for many people. And, as some of you know, it has been a particularly challenging year for me — a year of significant personal loss,” she wrote this week in an email to Health Department staff. “In reflecting on the intensity of the last few months, I realize I haven’t taken time to fully mourn the passing of close family members. I haven’t taken the time I need to grieve and heal.”
Kafoury said Clarke’s appointment as interim director will provide continuity while the County searches for a new permanent director.
Clarke joined Multnomah County in 2010, and has led the Behavioral Health Division since 2018, and was formally appointed as the division’s director in March 2019. She has nearly two decades of experience working in behavioral health.
“Her inspiring personal journey, commitment to building a trauma-informed organization and commitment to continuous quality improvement will serve us all well,” Kafoury wrote to County staff.
Clarke will take the helm of a Department that’s been driving the regional Public Health response to COVID-19. The Health Department serves as Oregon’s largest safety net primary care provider and supports the mental wellbeing of more than 800,000 residents — all during a relentless pandemic that is entering a new phase with surging case counts.
“I'm grateful for this vote of confidence from County leadership,” Clarke said Thursday. “I will continue to ground us in a unified response to twin pandemics: COVID-19 and racism as a public health emergency.
Clarke will lead a team well-equipped to serve the community and support one another.
The team includes Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey; Integrated Clinical Services Director Tasha Wheatt-Delancey; Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines; Corrections Health Director Dr. Michael Seale; Epidemiology Analytics and Evaluation Division Director Frank Franklin, Ph.D.; Equity and Inclusion Manager Hun Taing; Health Human Resources Director Debi Smith; Financial and Business Management Division Director Wendy Lear; and Organizational Development Director María Lisa Johnson.
“We are in a new time. Every day is unknown. But our staff can trust me and my commitment to the mission and values of the Health Department,” Clarke said. “And our community, my community, can trust my commitment to improving and protecting the health of all of our residents.”