State health officer temporarily helping county

Dr. Lindquist has been serving on an emergency basis since Dec. 31 and will continue until Jan. 20.

The state epidemiologist and acting state health officer is filling in temporarily as Island County’s interim health officer.

Dr. Scott Lindquist has been serving on an emergency basis since Dec. 31 and will continue until Jan. 20. The former health officer declined to renew his contract with the county, citing concerns with communication problems in Public Health.

“I agreed to this emergency request in order to protect the health and well-being of the residents of Island County,” Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said in a statement. “It is not an ideal situation but given the current COVID-19 crisis, it was the right thing to do. I appreciate Dr. Lindquist’s willingness to serve in this capacity.”

A spokesperson explained that the state Department of Health occasionally provides this type of short-term staffing for local health jurisdictions, including similar recent support for Chelan-Douglas Health District in their administrator position.

Keith Higman, Island County Public Health director, told the county Board of Health during a special meeting last week he’s been in contact with Whatcom County officials, who are in the process of hiring a new health officer.

Since Whatcom County is looking to hire a 0.6 full-time equivalent position, the person who is hired may be able to split his or her time between the two counties.

Under state law, a health officer has a wide range of duties, including enforcing public health statutes, control and prevent the spread of disease, inform the public about the prevention of disease and collect fees set by the board of health.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson noted that many of these responsibilities were transferred to the public health director in Island County. She stressed that the new health officer’s duties need to be clarified by the board.