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La Plata County health board gives qualified approval for interim health director

Candidate plans to work remotely part of the time from Front Range
The La Plata County Board of Health met Monday to interview and make a recommendation on whether to hire Theresa Anselmo as a contractor to serve as the interim director of the county’s health department. Board members, from left, Avery Perryman Sheldon, Teresa Wright, Wendy Rice and Patricia Supanich-Wall, who appeared on Zoom and is not pictured, voted in favor of a recommendation to hire Anselmo. Board President Doug McCarthy, second from right, voted against the recommendation. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald)

The La Plata County Board of Health made a tempered recommendation to commissioners Monday to hire a contracted consultant, Theresa Anselmo, to provide “health director related support” to the county.

The board voted 4-1 to recommend hiring Anselmo, with newly elected Board President Doug McCarthy voting as the sole dissenter.

With the recommendation in hand, the decision of whether to hire Anselmo will go before the Board of County Commissioners.

McCarthy was elected president of the Board of Health last week in the first meeting of the board with new member Patricia Supanich-Wall, who was selected by county commissioners to fill a vacant seat on the board. After a move by the BoCC in May to takeover hiring of the health director position and shrink the board from seven members to five by natural attrition, three members, including the president and vice president, resigned.

County officials have repeatedly justified that takeover as a necessity in order to have a functioning health department in place when the dissolution of San Juan Basin Public Health goes into effect on Jan. 1. Critical to their success, officials have said, was hiring a director for the new department as soon as possible.

But in June, the BoCC voted to modify the recruitment process after one of two named finalists removed herself from consideration. The sole remaining finalist, Tiffany Switzer, is the current interim director at SJBPH.

Rather than move forward with Switzer as the singular finalist, the BoCC voted to continue searching and opened the door to hiring someone as an interim director.

Switzer said Monday that she had not been informed as to her status as a candidate, although one health board member on Monday referenced that there were “zero” candidates remaining of the county’s original applicants.

After voting to continue the search, County Manager Chuck Stevens said the county’s public health consultant, The Otowi Group, was asked to suggest a shortlist of candidates.

Anselmo was the candidate that “rose to the top of the pool,” Stevens said.

She spent 3½ years as the executive director of Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, the professional association representing the state’s local health departments. She left that role in December 2020, less than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also served as a program manager at various local public health departments.

If hired, Anselmo would serve as a contractor in an interim capacity. Stevens said he hoped she would be in the role for about one year and would overlap with whoever was hired as the director, likely early next year.

After a 45-minute interview with Anselmo, the health board discussed her qualifications for about 15 minutes before taking a vote. Board members were largely supportive of hiring Anselmo, although each of them voiced concern that she lives on the Front Range and would be working remotely part of the time.

During the interview, board member Wendy Rice called the remote work and commute the “elephant in the room.” Anselmo committed to being present in person “as much as possible.”

“Who are things going to fall back on when she’s not here?” asked board member Avery Perryman Sheldon. Another member called for a stipulation that Anselmo, if hired, work in person at least 50% of the time.

McCarthy, heeding a piece of advice that Anselmo had herself offered during the interview, said he did not want the county to rush to fill the role.

“I am very concerned about the process under which we are hiring this candidate,” he said.

Although Anselmo has experience as the executive director of a public health professional association, McCarthy also raised concerns that she did not have actual experience as a public health director.

Supanich-Wall, the newest board of health member who currently serves as the chief compliance officer at San Juan Regional Medical Center, said Anselmo has the skill set to keep moving the county in the direction it needs to go.

County commissioners will vote on whether to enter into contract negotiations with Anselmo at a meeting on Aug. 1.


A previous version of this story included an incorrect first name for Ms. Anselmo. The candidate’s first name is Theresa.