The role of Allen County Health Commissioner will become a part-time job after Dr. Deborah McMahan's retirement in early June.
But that probably won't be a permanent change, Health Department Administrator Mindy Waldron told the Allen County Council on Thursday.
“This is probably the hardest time to hire a new health commissioner, to be honest,” Waldron said. “It's not as attractive as it maybe once would have been just from the public side of things.”
There have been two applications for the position since McMahan announced her retirement in January, Health Department spokeswoman Megan Hubartt said.
In a 7-0 vote, the County Council approved amending the health commissioner's annual salary from $164,000 to a range of $40,000 to $60,000. The council also approved creation of a second position – a part-time physician – at a wage range of $65 to $150 per hour. The change will be effective June 8.
The original wage request for the part-time physician was $65 to $200 per hour, but that was reduced by an amendment proposed by Councilman Kyle Kerley, R-at large. Councilwoman Sheila Curry-Campbell, D-1st, was the sole vote against that amendment.
Waldron added she doesn't anticipate the physician's salary range would be anywhere near the $150 per hour cap.
Since McMahan took over 20 years ago, the role of health commissioner has evolved, but the “pay did not remain commensurate with what a doctor at a full-time salary” makes, Waldron added.
“It's hard to attract doctors that would have that knowledge base or the want to take a significant – if not a half or more than that – pay cut,” she said. “We have not had a lot of applications, to be honest.”
A hybrid model will most likely not be a long-term solution, but “it is what is probably needed now,” Waldron said.
“It is hard to find someone like Dr. McMahan whose passion is the whole enchilada,” Waldron said. “She has built that from us having far away clinics that really didn't see patients to a public health system that's looked at around the state as something that's very progressive and not just reactive.”
The health commissioner's duties will not be diminished under the hybrid model, Hubartt said in a news release Thursday afternoon. The health commissioner will be a part-time physician who will fulfill high-level duties as medical director for the department, including decision-making, public education, strategic planning, presentations, departmental representation, consultation on certain communicable disease actions and overall departmental direction, Hubartt said.
The part-time physician, called a public health clinical physician, would fulfill the clinical aspects of the current health commissioner role “as needed and more sporadically,” Hubartt said. The physician would work with medical staff in the health department's clinics and see patients one or two days a week, as needed.
McMahan's last day will be June 5. However, “she will continue to assist on a part-time basis with civil surgeon needs until the clinical replacement completes necessary requirements,” Hubartt added.
It's hard to estimate just how many hours the new health commissioner would work, Waldron said, but she estimated an average of 10 to 30 hours per week. It will vary depending on what public health issues arise. The part-time physician would likely work similar hours, but slightly less than the health commissioner, she added.
It's not ideal, Waldron said, but it is the best option currently and is “what is occurring in most every other health department in the state and what we did prior to having Dr. McMahan as a full-time health commissioner.”
As McMahan prepares for retirement, County Council members praised the work she has done over the past 20 years.
“I think Dr. McMahan has done a wonderful job for our community and certainly in the midst of this (pandemic) I've had several meetings with her and she's always been very gracious,” Councilman Joel Benz, R-3rd, said. “I know she doesn't want any fanfare on her way out, but convey our thanks for her work, if you would.”
Both Kerley and Curry-Campbell agreed. Kerley specifically said he appreciates the work health department staff has done throughout the pandemic.
“We just want to commend Dr. McMahan. I met her in 2000, working at Matthew 25 along with Dr. (Thomas) Hayhurst and his (tuberculosis) clinic,” Curry-Campbell said. “These individuals are outstanding and the service they contribute to our health here in Fort Wayne, words just can't express all of the things Dr. McMahan has done.”