The Journal Gazette
Thursday, May 21, 2020 1:00 am

County's top health job may go part time

Council to consider move as McMahan retires June 3


The Allen County Council today will consider making the county health commissioner's job part time and with a much lower salary when current Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan retires June 5.

The council will also consider a second proposal to hire a second person, also a doctor, to do clinical work in the department, including seeing patients, a role that also has been filled by McMahan. 

Megan Hubartt, health department spokeswoman, said Wednesday she could not comment on the changes. She said they would be presented by Mindy Waldron, department administrator, but Waldron was not available for comment Wednesday.

However, the changes are outlined in a pre-meeting summary online and given to council members. The main proposal takes the health commissioner's salary from $164,000 annually for full time to a range of $40,000 to $60,000 for part time.

The second extends the salary range for the extra deputy hire line to $200 an hour “to accommodate for paying a Physician's part-time hourly wage.”

The main proposal says the commissioner position has not been filled since 2000, when McMahan took over. At that time, the position was made full time with benefits and McMahan developed it from clinical work into an advocacy role for public health.

In recent weeks, she has taken a visible role leading efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on area residents.

“Unfortunately, that position is no longer commensurately paid for what it does and this has inhibited the Department/Executive Board from attracting many candidates willing to do the job at the current rate (where they would take quite large pay cuts),” the proposal states.

McMahan's work “was a passion and for her, the duties were never about the pay,” the proposal says.

To support the cuts, the proposal says few other Indiana counties have full-time health commissioners and cites lower pay rates for two that do – St. Joseph County paid $140,000 in 2019, and Vanderburgh County paid $150,000 in 2018.

Both those counties have much smaller populations than Allen County's 379,299 federal census estimate from 2019 – 206,000 for St. Joseph and 181,000 Vanderburgh.

Pay for part-time health commissioners cited ranged from $21,000 for Monroe County to $68,000 in Lake County. How many hours those commissioners work are not specified, but the proposal for the Allen County job says pay would be evenly split among pay periods “regardless of the hours worked.”

The proposal lists pay rates for other local health leadership positions, including for the Matthew 25 health clinic in Fort Wayne ($200,000 to $225,000 plus a signing bonus because the position is open) and Fort Wayne's Neighborhood Health clinics ($186,000).

“You will see we will have a difficult time even attracting candidates, even with an increased salary range,” the proposal says.

An online job posting for the same positions states lower salary ranges than are being proposed to council – up to $50,000 a year for the part-time commissioner and $100 an hour for the part-time clinician. 

Health commissioners are required to be physicians in Indiana.

Tom Harris, council chairman, said the proposals represent “organizational change” for the department and an attempt “to develop, design, create something new structurally.”

He said he did not know more about reasons for the changes.

Dr. William Pond, health board chairman, could not be reached Wednesday. The board has not met since January, except for a special meeting on COVID-19. Its April meeting was canceled.

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