Dr. Liza Ortiz has resigned as Tuolumne County’s Public Health Department officer.

Ortiz was hired by the county Board of Supervisors in February 2015 and is scheduled to leave office, citing unspecified personal reasons.

In a brief telephone interview, Ortiz declined to comment on her reasons for resigning from the position as well as her time leading the department.

Steve Boyack, assistant director of the county Human Services Agency that oversees public health, behavioral health, social services, veterans services, air pollution and child support, praised Ortiz’s performance and said her decision was strictly her own.

“We’ve known for a little bit of time that being the health officer in Tuolumne County may not be an ultimate career endgame for Dr. Ortiz,” Boyack said. “She’ll definitely leave the county with a very positive influence.”

Some of Ortiz’s accomplishments cited by Boyack included her focus on high-level challenges, such as the rate of opiate prescribing in the county, alcohol use, and her involvement in the development of a countywide health needs assessment for 2017 through 2019.

The assessment, a collaboration with Sonora Regional Medical Center, found the top three health-related priorities the county should focus on over the next three years are promoting early-childhood health education, reducing substance abuse and improving access to care.

Among the report’s findings was that the county had the fourth-highest cancer rate in California, the highest rate of hospital visits and admissions for non-fatal alcohol and drug overdoses in the tri-county area that includes Calaveras and Amador counties, and the state’s highest cost burden for major chronic diseases of all 58 counties.

“Dr. Ortiz is certainly one of the brightest people I’ve ever worked with,” Boyack said. “Her ability to quickly examine circumstances and apply creativity to solutions was something I admire.”

Ortiz moved to the county from Chicago, where she had worked as a primary care physician since 2012. She replaced longtime County Health Officer Todd Stolp, who retired after serving 12 years.

Ortiz was hired at a base salary of $145,354 per year for working 32 hours per week. She was earning an annual salary of $162,187 as of June, according to county records.

At a meeting Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider approving a proposed recruitment plan for a new public health officer. The recommended annual salary is between about $134,201 to $164,153 for working up to 32 hours per week.

The position’s duties include overseeing clinical services offered by the department, such as reproductive health, cancer screenings and immunization. Other responsibilities are identifying and preventing outbreaks of contagious or infectious diseases, investigating threats to public health and reporting health statistics to the state.

For example, Ortiz was involved with identifying contaminants in groundwater wells in the Quartz-Stent area last year and advising residents with contaminated wells to drink bottled water.

Requirements for the position include a doctor of medicine degree from a recognized medical school, five years of experience in public health programs, a valid physician’s and surgeon’s license from the California Medical Quality Assurance Board, and a master’s degree in public health or a closely related field.

“That’s one of those positions that requires a specific set of education requirements and skill sets,” Boyack said.

According to the tentative timeline, the agency plans to begin recruiting for the position July 15 and screening candidates by late August, with the ultimate goal of the board approving a new officer by late October.

The Human Services Agency is also in the process of recruiting a new behavioral health director following Rita Austin’s abrupt resignation in April over health concerns.

The deadline to apply for the behavioral health director position is July 7. Boyack said the agency has already received “quite a few” applications, though he didn’t know the exact number. He hopes to have someone in place for that position by sometime in September.

Boyack has been serving as the acting behavioral health director, while the agency plans to contract with a county health officer elsewhere on a limited basis when that position becomes vacant.

Not having day-to-day supervision in the top positions at both departments poses a challenge, Boyack said, but he believed the Behavioral Health Department has been running smoothly given the circumstances.

Boyack pointed to a recently approved budget for the 2017-18 year that includes 66 positions. He said the budget also includes an increased focus on telepsychiatry, something the department has been doing since October following the departure of former county psychiatrist Dr. James Glover.

Dr. Alan Peters provides psychiatric services for the county on Mondays only, according to Boyack.

Despite the lucrative salary offered by the county, Boyack said it’s proved difficult to find a qualified psychiatrist who wants to move and live in rural area in part due to a nationwide shortage.

The California State Controller’s Office database shows the psychiatrist position was the second-highest paid in the county for 2016 at $204,061 that year, behind county administrator Craig Pedro at $277,315.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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