October 27, 2021

Panel backs interim health director

Cortland County Seal

Cortland County will have an interim public health director to keep the public apprised of the spreading coronavirus when Health Director Catherine Feuerherm retires Monday, but county leaders won’t say who that person is.

The Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously Thursday to place someone from within the county in the position until a permanent successor is found. However, the name of that person won’t be released until the Legislature votes March 26.

Health and Human Service Committee Chairwoman Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) said she feels “unequivocally” confident in the person to handle the day-to-day oversight of the department and continue to update the public on coronavirus.

The committee has three months to find a new director, under state regulations, with the possibility of extending the search another three months, Bischoff said.

Feuerherm’s last day before retiring is Monday. She told legislators what they should look for in the next director:

“The state requires someone in this position who has the education and the experience to make decisions — public health decisions — to keep the community safe,” Feuerherm said.

She said that educational background and experience is particularly important right now with the coronavirus scare.

The position requires a master’s degree and has the authority to quarantine or shut down facilities without a judge’s order, although one could be provided.

But Feuerherm said the person should also have a strong background in bio statistics and must know “from a predictory standpoint where things are going” for health-related issues like coronavirus.

“They have to have basic understanding of how disease spreads and how to stop it,” she said.

Feuerherm said the candidates should also have background in environmental health, health management, the health care system and how public health fits into that system.

“It’s political, it’s fiscal, it’s clinical, it’s scientific, it’s all the above,” she said. “When all is said and done it does come back to the public health director. You’ve got to be able to and clearly state what public health’s role is, what public health’s responsibility is and guide a community and guide a government to make the right decision or give them the information on which to base their decisions to make their own ones.”

Legislators also discussed lowering the salary range for the position to between $77,994 to $94,893 from $83,845 to $102,010. Legislators compared the existing salary range to other counties. Broome County starts pay at $88,793, Cayuga pays $89,453 and Madison County has its range set at $83,000 to $112,000.

“I think this is again a beginning conversation just from the salary point of view,” Bischoff said.