July 14, 2009

Best candidate to lead city's Health Department can't apply

The best candidate to be the city's next public health administrator isn't qualified to apply for the job.

Marcia Fernholz is working as interim head of the health department for the second time. She took over the department after Janelle Grammer was suspended and eventually fired.

While Fernholz has the support of the Board of Health and the health department employees, she doesn't have the master's degree required by the state for a Level 3 health department, which the city runs. The result: Fernholz can't even apply for the job she's held twice. She also ran the department prior to Grammer being hired.

Dr. William Little, head of the Board of Health, said he's meeting with the mayor to discuss the health administrator position. It's likely the city will initiate a search to fill the position, he said. But he added the city was looking at a few alternatives he couldn't discuss.

Fernholz said she knew she needed a master's degree - she actually needs 16 grad school credits - for the job, but hasn't had time to take the needed classes. For starters, she's too busy trying to run a department with four, soon to be five, unfilled positions.

The Board of Health's meeting Tuesday was its first after the City Council fired Grammer for poor running the city's Health Department. Little said the board first became aware of problems with Grammer last December after then City Administrator Ben Hughes raised questions about her performance. The board didn't hear the problems directly because the public health administrator is technically in charge of the Board of Health meetings. Any employee with a complaint would have had to put their job on the line to take a stand against Grammer.

However, Little said former Mayor Gary Becker told him in 2007 that he was second-guessing his decision to hire Grammer.

Little said he's talked with City Attorney Rob Weber to clarify the Board of Health's role in monitoring the city's Health Department. The board is now in charge of reviewing whether the department is complying with state requirements. Even though Grammer struggled as a manager, Little said, the Health Department still complied with state law.

But with the Grammer saga put to rest, the Health Department does appear to be making rapid progress. For example, the Healthy Births, Healthy Outcomes program that was created to lower the city's high infant mortality rate is finally taking hold. Nurses are visiting the homes of at-risk pregnant women, the city is working with an outside group to monitor infant deaths in Racine and a public information campaign is planned for safe sleeping arrangements.

But Fernholz said the department is still strapped for resources. The department once had a five-member management team to manage public health in Racine. That team is down to two until a public health administrator is hired, she said.

The department is short staffed at a time when the city is facing health challenges. An outbreak of shigella and campylobacter, both forms of bacteria, has spread since it was first reported in May. Health officials said there is no obvious connections between the cases, which have been found in day cares and schools throughout eastern Racine County. While none of the reported cases have been fatal, both bacterias can cause serious health problems for people.

The county also has 41 reported cases of H1N1 flu. Fortunately, none have been fatal. But experts expect the virus's second round this fall will be worse. The city is gearing up to offer a regular flu vaccine as well as a two-shot H1N1 vaccine later this year.

Little said there is no established timeline for hiring a new administrator, but he has met with Mayor Dickert about the position. Fernholz will continue to lead the department until a replacement for Grammer is hired, he said.


  1. If they got rid of educational requirements for the city admininstratr job maybe they should get rid of the educational requirements for this one too.

    They did it for one, why not the other? Seems fair to me.

  2. Common Sense7/15/2009 5:57 AM

    I agree with the above comments. Marcia is the person for the job. Tom Friedel got to be city administrative with no degree. If you can change the requirement for him, change them for Marcia. Look what you got last time in the person you said was qualified and hired. What happened to common sense and doing the right thing?

  3. Read the article. It is a STATE requirement.

  4. Yeah I agree, if done for one person it should be done for the other, especially if it is generally felt she is the most capable person to do the job.

    I do think it was a dangerous precedent to start, eliminating basic requirements, but it's too late to go back now.

    If they DON'T look at hiring her due to lack of education it is going to appear to be favoritism, so I'd say they almost have to now.

  5. Ohhhh, I didn't see the part about the state. Couldn't they just keep her interim indefinitely then?

  6. I believe if the Health Dept. becomes a Level II with the state instead of a Level III, Marcia would be qualified as no Master's is required. As far as I am concerned Marcia already has a PhD through her experience. You couldn't find a better boss or a more qualified person. She is a true pleasure to work with and kept us a float during the recent dark days.

  7. But has she ever stayed at a Holiday Inn Express?

    Answering that question might provide the requirement!

  8. "As far as I am concerned Marcia already has a PhD through her experience."

    Unbelievable! People who have no concept of advanced degrees will continue to make these positions a joke. Yep, "I didn't have time to get a Masters degree with my kids andf job." Hello - part of the committment in getting an advanced degree is the time involved. With all the mail order degrees available to "transfer life experiences to degrees" - like the poster suggests - you STILL didn't have time?

    The Racine/Kenosha County way: get the high-paying jobm, then get paid while you get the advanced degree that you actually should have had in the first place. You know, that degree that an unlimited number of people had who would have (did?) applied for the position but who would not have been given a chance by "management". Why get someone with an MPH from Michigan AND experience (they are out there and available) when you can get someone with a two year tech degree and lots of "life experience"?

  9. Would you go to a surgeon who was actually a chiropractor who had "transferred his life experiences"?

    Would you like to see architects overseeing bridge construction who had two year automotive tech degrees from Gateway and "lots of life experience"?

    Would you get your hair cut in a salon for $30 by someone who had no formal training but "lots of experience cutting their kids' hair"?

  10. It seems to me that if state law requires a master's degree for the position, then Ms. Fernholz cannot be the "best candidate" unless there are absolutely no other masters degrees out there willing to do the job. But we don't know that, do we?

    Rah-rah for the home team is great. Throwing all journalistic objectivity out of the window is not. When it comes to health matters, I usually seek the counsel of medical experts, not reporters.

  11. Name her "acting director," then hire an assistant and give her the time and resources to complete the 16 credits.

  12. Agree with Randolf, lets get on with it. We have nightclubs to go after.

  13. Yes Randolph, lets pay her AND her job coach while she gioes and gets the degree she is supposed to have to even begin work. A real city would put out a job ad on Monster/Career Builder and say you need an MPH and ten years experience running a municipal program. But we all know this is a popularity contest. Btter hope your physician or dentist didn't get their jobs based on being popular. No wait, they can't - they have to have real degrees and pass board exams.

  14. Reading this article and comments reminded me of the following riddle/joke:

    What do you call someone who graduated last in their class in medical school?

  15. They are called "more qualified to practice medicine than the person who graduated first in their class at the best chiropractic school and who has thirty years of 'life experience'" -

  16. Interesting discussion. I like the idea of allowing Marcia the time to get her master's degree and get the job she is handling quite well from what I read. I work for a company that pays for employees to finish their degrees. This could be done here. Only questions is does Marcia even want the job.