RIO GRANDE COUNTY- In the most recent meeting held by the Rio Grande County Commissioners, the board once again welcomed Toni Steffens-Steward, who recently agreed to help with Public Health administrative duties, to discuss having her becoming the Interim Public Health Director position.
The conversation began with a report on current, active COVID-19 cases in the county. According to Steffens-Steward, as of Wednesday, July 15, “We have five active cases in our report as of this morning and we are working on our contact tracing. One thing that will be a part of a larger Board of Health discussion is how we are shifting our staff. Staff member Ida Salazar would like to put more of her time toward contact tracing and I think that is very appropriate especially with her history as an LPN. She has a fairly good grasp on that kind of counseling process.”
Steffens-Steward stated that their priority in Public Health right now is placing staff in appropriate rolls and making sure that the department is responding appropriately to what the department is facing and making a plan for the future. “We are trying to be as ready as we can in case of a surge or outbreak before that comes.”Chairman John Noffsker opened the discussion on making Steffens-Steward the Interim Public Health Director asking for clarification, “Since you stepped in as Public Health Administrator to handle the administrative side, my impression, or my assumption is you’ll be assigning the duties within the Public Health Department?”
Steffens-Steward responded that after several discussions with County Administrator Trish Slater that they both agreed to look to commissioners for direction on how to move forward. “We wanted to discuss this with the board to make sure we are not overstepping and to clarify who is in charge. My hesitance to use the title Interim Director has probably caused some confusion over the last few days, so our request is as the Board of Health, you make that decision on moving forward.”
Slater agreed with Steffens-Steward and stated, “I think specifically we are referring to the applications that will be coming in for the nurse position we are seeking and who will be responsible for hiring that position and authorizing Toni for managing employees. I think the current staff’s opinions should be taken into consideration and valued but I do not think they are the people to be handling this situation.”
“It would be my recommendation to have a combination of Human Resources, Toni and myself to handle the hiring process and to have Toni in as Interim Public Health Director who would work directly with me,” continued Slater.
By the end of the discussion, it was decided that Steffens-Steward would step in as Interim Public Health Director and would work closely with Slater to accomplish all tasks within the Public Health Department. The board agreed to the proposal, stating that all communications would come through the Board of Health/County Commissioners in order to strengthen the communication between the two departments.
“Clearly we do not want any ambiguity or uncertainty on responsibilities. When we dispatched Toni down to Public Health with new administrative duties that those duties would include hiring as needed. I understood that she would bring issues to the board as board approval was needed but that we would grant her full authority to function in that role.”
The board made a motion and approved the decision to make Steffens-Steward Interim Public Health Director unanimously.