Governor signs bill for DOH modifications

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed Senate Bill 6006 into law August 31, confirming modifications to the Department of Health requirements for executive and deputy directors. 

The bill, effective immediately, allows current interim Executive Director Richard Saunders to become the permanent executive director.

 

 

Saunders said he is grateful for the opportunity and for the governor and lieutenant governor putting their faith in him. 

“I’m honored the governor and lieutenant governor have placed their faith in me. I’ve been helping to lead Utah’s response to the pandemic since April, and look forward to continuing to do so. Utah is in an enviable position. Under the leadership of Gov. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Cox, along with many others involved in the response, we have the lowest case fatality rate in the nation, along with the lowest unemployment rate. I will continue to work closely with these leaders, and draw upon the expertise of the staff at the Utah Department of Health to keep Utah moving in the right direction.”

During the August 20 special session, House Sponsor Rep. Kelly Miles said the bill does not change the required areas of expertise, only the years of experience required. 

The bill reduces years of experience needed to five years in public health and three years in senior-level administration, when previously executive directors needed 12 total years.

The bill also changes requirements for deputy directors, who now need at least one year of graduate work in an accredited public health program if the executive director is not a physician. 

Miles said the Governor’s Office requested this bill be looked in to after Saunders took over the position. 

Public Information Officer for the Governor’s Office, Brooke Scheffler, said this request did not stem from Saunders. Rather, the Governor’s Office offered potential suggestions, but Sen. Allen Christensen wrote the bill. 

Scheffler said that while the bill does apply to Saunders, “it still allows for the Utah Department of Health to rely on many leaders, both operational and medical. The Governor is not concerned with this bill and he’s confident in this decision as we continue to move forward.”

In a statement released before the bill was signed, Herbert said during the global pandemic, professional experience is just as important as medical experience when combating COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest public health emergency of our lifetimes. Medical experts are crucial to the State’s response — but so are individuals with experience in leading large scale operations and organizations. This bill allows the Utah Department of Health to rely on both operational leaders and medical experts, instead of requiring individual heads of the departments to be experts in both leadership and medicine.” 

Rep. Suzanne Harrison spoke against the bill during the special session, citing concerns of making changes to the existing statute during a global pandemic to fit Saunders, who before the modifications was not qualified. 

State of Reform reached out to Harrison for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.