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.