MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After about a month on the job, Shelby County Health Department Interim Director Dr. La Sonya Harris Hall said she’s working to rebuild trust in the community and considers this time a transformative stage for the Department.
She’s likely not to become the face of the local pandemic like her predecessor was, but she talked with WMC Action News 5 for her first sit down, one-on-one interview since taking the interim role.
Dr. Hall has 25 years of experience in the public sector including some in public health once working with the National Institutes of Health.
Most recently she served as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Shelby County Government.
She said her role is mainly administrative at the Health Department, and the work she’s focused on is on the other side of this pandemic.
“We are in a rebirth transformative stage at the Health Department,” Dr. Hall said.
The spring can be a rebirth to some.
With the Shelby County Health Department coming off a tough winter, plagued by a state investigation into wasted COVID-19 vaccine doses ending in the resignation of former department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter, the spring was welcomed at the Health Department.
“The restrictions on everyday life have taken their toll,” Dr. Hall said.
Maybe a clear sign of that toll comes in the form of a vandalized ‘Shelby County Health Department’ sign outside the offices on Jefferson in the Medical District of Memphis.
By this summer employees will leave the current building behind and move into their new offices next door.
However, before there can be a rebirth, there needs to be a regain of the public’s trust.
“The real work that needs to be done, and you mentioned trust, is reassuring citizens that we are qualified, and we are determined to streamline our processes and get in front of our community, that we are interacting and hearing their voices,” Dr. Hall said.
Hall thinks the best way to do that is to focus on the programs the Health Department has always delivered.
“Public health is so broad that it’s unfortunate COVID-19 has taken the limelight,” Dr. Hall said. “We’re making sure we get birth certificates and health certificates out in time. We are making sure we are still managing out clinics, immunizations for our children, wellness for our mothers.”
There’s also a push for vaccines beyond the COVID-19 vaccine.
Child immunizations have gone down across the county, according to the CDC.
The Shelby County Health Department says anecdotal data shows that’s also the case in Shelby County.
“We had everyone in stay-at-home orders, not everyone took their kids to the clinic to get vaccinations, people were reluctant to get out because of exposure, so now we really, really have to stand that operation up,” Dr. Hall said.
Don’t expect to see Hall at the weekly COVID-19 task force briefings like you did her predecessor.
She said her colleagues, Deputy Director David Sweat and Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph will continue that.
She has not been tasked with getting vaccine distribution back into the hands of the Health Department.
“The Mayor charged me with two primary goals- that is to make sure we have a permanent director in July and that we are adequately staffed and ready to respond to the needs of the community,” Dr. Hall said.
At this point, Dr. Hall is not saying if she is applying for the permanent role of health director.
It’s a nationwide search and the interview process has not started yet.
The old Shelby County Health Department building will be demolished and turned into a parking lot once employees are moved out.