The Champaign County Board of Health appointed Gabriel Jones to be the county’s next health commissioner during a special meeting Wednesday.
Jones will fill the vacancy left by the resignation of current health commissioner Jeff Webb.
Webb submitted his resignation on Nov. 8 and his last day will be Dec. 30. Jones’ first day as the health commissioner will be Dec. 29.
Webb worked for health district for a decade
Webb has served as the county health commissioner since April 2014 and his resignation is the end of 10 years of working for the Champaign County Health District. Webb has worked in public health for 30 years and prior to working in Champaign County he worked for the Clark County Combined Health District as an environmental health inspector and the emergency preparedness coordinator.
“(Former Champaign County Health Commissioner) Shelia (Hiddleson) worked for Clark County, she was the nursing director down there, came up here and became the health commissioner,” Webb said. “She was in the process of needing an environmental director, of course she knew me and so she hired me here.”
Webb said when he started in Champaign County there were things Hiddleson wanted to accomplish in the environmental division specifically computerizing programs so they were more organized. Webb was in charge of obtaining a health district information system to help the district organize information.
“For example if somebody wants to come in and get a copy of their sewage drawing for their house it used to be where we’d have to go back and go through these filing cabinets and it took a long time to find them,” Webb said. “What we ended up doing is scanning all of our septic system drawings back to the ‘50s into that database and now somebody comes in I can bring it up within a minute and print it out.”
When Hiddleson resigned as health commissioner in December 2012 and when former health commissioner Brad King resigned in February 2014, Webb served as the health district’s interim health commissioner.
“Initially it wasn’t really my goal to be health commissioner,” Webb said. “I fulfilled a role when Shelia left until we could find somebody to hire but I had been here so long and gotten to know so many people and how things worked that the second time around when Mr. King left I just felt ‘well I think it’s the opportune time to go ahead and take the position’ because it was the easiest transition for the health department because you didn’t have to hire somebody outside the organization or outside of our community so I think that was an advantage for us.”
Webb said the health commissioner’s job involves overseeing the multiple programs and divisions within the health district. He said he has been blessed thanks to good leadership within the health district.
“We’ve got a really good staff here,” Webb said. “If I was going to pick a time to leave, now is the time I feel most comfortable with taking another position.”
Webb is going to be the environmental director for Greene County Public Health.
“I’ve been an environmental director before and I knew the health commissioner there and I knew the environmental health director who retired and their health commissioner Melissa (Branum) is so sharp that I felt going to work for her I can learn some things from her and maybe make some improvements in their program.”
While he only served as the health commissioner for a few years, Webb said he is proud of the health district’s collective efforts in applying for accreditation, their response to a tuberculous case this year and a tire collection event the health district held this year.
“The one thing that I have learned from being health commissioner is about building relationships in the community and I think that is going to be an advantage for me when I go down there,” Webb said. “My impression is that that’s the direction that their health commissioner down there wants to do is build more relationships within the community so I think that’s going to be really beneficial.”
Ultimately, Webb said he will miss the people he has worked with here.
“It’s been a good 10 years and I’m going to miss the folks that I’ve worked with for a long time,” Webb said. “But I feel comfortable leaving them because they all do a great job here and the one thing I liked about this community is because it’s small it seems like the agencies work well together, people know each other better here than they did in Clark County because it’s just so much bigger down there so you don’t have the small-town relationships that they have up here.”
Jones brings familiarity with county to position
A native of Montgomery County and resident of Miami County, Jones has worked in public health for five and a half years.
Jones received his undergraduate degree from Miami University and attended graduate school at Wright State University where he received his master of public health with a concentration in public health management.
“I started off in undergrad knowing that I wanted to get into the health field and I started off in pre-med,” Jones said. “I started off on the clinical side and as I learned more and took more classes population health really stood out to me as something that would interest me. I was a person that loved statistics, I loved health and epidemiology sort of meshed those two together and then as I got into grad school it was sort of a goal of mine to get into public health at the highest level that I could in order to make the biggest impact.”
After a brief stint working at Montgomery County’s health department in graduate school, Jones’ first job was as an epidemiologist for the Clark County Combined Health District where he has worked for four and a half years.
“An epidemiologist is going to be someone who works with bio statistics, which is just statistics at the population level,” Jones said. “I tracked health trends, I conduct all surveillance activities so I worked a lot in communicable disease but then I also worked in disease management in general so I managed the Community Health Assessment for (Clark and Champaign) counties, the Community Health Improvement Plan it was my job to collect all the data, analyze all the data and figure out what the biggest gaps were in the community and find out where the most at risk areas were.”
Jones said he was interested in the health commissioner position because it has been a goal over the last few years as he would be doing similar work as when he was an epidemiologist at a higher level. With some experience working within Champaign County he said he is already familiar with the health district staff and other partners in the community.
“Being an (epidemiologist) and knowing all the stats of the county really helps me know what this county is and where the gaps are,” Jones said. “Knowing people within the community already through my work as an (epidemiologist) not just in communicable diseases but the community health improvement plan has really brought all the partners to the table and I’m already familiar with those people and they know what they can expect from me, they know the type of work that I do.”
Jones said he feels his experience as an epidemiologist prepared him to be a health commissioner because he was in all facets of public health.
“In Champaign County it’s a smaller county so the health commissioner is going to be doing more of the legwork for this type of position,” Jones said. “I’m not just going to be managing people, I’m going to be out in the community I’m going to be the face of the health department getting out and letting people know what the health department wants to do in the community, what we can provide to the community and then continually finding out what the gaps are in the community that we can tackle some of the health issues.”
Jones complimented Webb for starting a great push in taking the health district out in the community more.
“In the past – maybe 20 or 30 years ago – public health was people coming in and getting their immunizations and then sanitarians going out and doing their inspections and that’s basically what public health is,” Jones said. “Now it’s more about health promotion and partnering with more agencies in the community to try to improve the overall health of the community because when the community is healthy, people are happier, it brings in more revenue to the community, it’s just much better for the entire county.
“I want to continue to build upon the work that Jeff has started here. I want to get us out in the community more and I want to be a resource for the community to look to should they have any issues or should they need something. I want to be an open door and I want the community to know that it’s our job to get them healthier and we’re going to do whatever we can to do that.”
Champaign Health District Administrative Assistant Mary Collier stated Jones’ salary will start at $60,000 and after 90 days it will increase to $63,000 per year. Webb’s salary as health commissioner was $73,403.20 annually according to information from the Champaign County Auditor’s Office.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.