Montgomery Co. considers changing hiring requirements for vacant health officer role

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is open to changing the Maryland county’s hiring requirements for a health officer.

In a discussion with the Montgomery County Council, Chief Administrative Officer Richard Madaleno told council members that eliminating the county’s requirement that its health officer must be a medical doctor could “broaden” the applicant pool.

Madaleno explained that Maryland state law requires that a health officer be either a state-licensed physician or someone with a master’s degree in public health. But Montgomery County requires the health officer to be a state licensed medical doctor.

“We might be wise” to change the requirement to boost the odds of finding a candidate for the job, he said.

The discussion on changing the required qualifications comes as the county saw a third candidate drop out of the running late in the selection process during a search that’s gone on for eight months.

Montgomery County’s been without a permanent health officer since Dr. Travis Gayles stepped down in September.

Madaleno stressed that the county had cast a wide net in the search for a health officer. Using a search firm, 150 candidates were identified for the role.

Fifteen names were forwarded from the firm to the county. “Five candidates were brought in in late October,” Madaleno said.

The names of three of those candidates were forwarded to Elrich, who interviewed one “amazing” candidate who was bilingual. But that candidate chose an opportunity in the private sector, Madaleno said.

Several candidates for the job inquired about what they could expect in terms of stability.

Madaleno said those candidates had asked about the impact of election year politics: In Maryland, a county health officer reports to both the state’s secretary of health and the local county government. Maryland’s primary elections include a race for governor and county executive.

Montgomery County council member Andrew Friedson expressed some concern about switching the job description.

“We’re going to trade one problem for another unless we deal with the root issue here,” Friedson said, noting the state requires for a medical doctor as either the health officer or the deputy health officer.

“But a majority of the other counties function that way,” Madaleno said. “And they’ve been able to find a licensed physician who can serve in a deputy role.”

County Council President Gabe Albornoz told Madaleno that the council would consider the issue, adding that he would like to do it sooner rather than later.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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