SCHD director nominee answers questions from county commission

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 9:22 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2021 at 8:26 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County is one step closer to having a new health director.

Dr. Michelle Taylor, who went to White Station High School and is a pediatrician with public health experience, says she hopes to gain the trust of the Memphis and Shelby County community.

Wednesday, Taylor who is Mayor Lee Harris’ pick for the director of the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD), sat before the Shelby County Commission’s General Government Committee.

She answered questions about her experience and the state of the pandemic.

“Is it your intention to reinstate restrictions and mandates, particularly those who are vaccinated? And if not, what would trigger you to take that action and what consideration and input would you rely upon?” asked District 3 Shelby County Commissioner Mick Wright.

Taylor deferred that question to Harris but had this to say.

“Frankly, it would be irresponsible as a public health practitioner and a medical professional to even give a benchmark, or a timeline, or a number on when a mandate may need to be instituted,” she said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Taylor for the job, with the exception of Commissioner Mark Billingsley, who abstained.

Billingsley said Wednesday he had just received a memo dated May 19, 2021. It shows notes from an interview panel for the Shelby County Health Department director position. That panel is composed of stakeholders from local hospitals, nonprofits, the private sector, public health professionals, legislators, the public health advisory board, and health department employees.

The interview panel gave notes on two candidates. It says Taylor was articulate, highly credentialed, and a native Memphian, which works to her benefit. However, it goes on to say her presentation was weak regarding how she plans to change the health department and failed to mention the needs and wants of the inner city.

The final recommendation from the panel was to not recommend either candidate for a permanent position as health director, but instead to keep interim Health Director LaSonya Hall in the position until they find the right candidate.

Taylor was said to be ideal to fill a vacant physician position at the health department. During the meeting Wednesday, Billingsley asked Harris about the panel.

“What was the recommendation of the advisory panel? Who did they choose?” asked Billingsley.

“The strongest candidate in their mind is in front of us,” Harris said.

WMC spoke with Taylor after the vote. She elaborated on the use of masks and vaccinations.

“99.5 percent of the people who are hospitalized right now have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. I believe that if you have the opportunity and you live in Shelby County, you should do so,” Taylor said.

Harris says there are currently no talks about reinstating the mask mandate. He wants to focus on vaccinations.

“The CDC guidelines have not changed. I think if the CDC guidelines change, that will be a gamechanger, but for now the CDC guidelines are what they are and they suggest as far as we can tell that you can have normal activities without a mask if you’re vaccinated,” Harris said.

Taylor’s appointment will go before a full commission vote Monday.

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