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Health department reforms after criticism

ALPENA — A deputy health officer will soon be in place at District Health Department No 4.

The Health Department board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to create the position following a closed-door discussion. The decision comes less than two months after an outgoing employee criticized Health Officer Denise Bryan and her leadership team and called them “incompetent.” Other former employees also accused department leaders of mismanaging the budget, though a News review of the department’s finances showed the budget appeared healthy.

The new position is part of the Health Department’s response to the controversy.

The department provides public health services in Alpena, Cheboygan, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties. Its board is made up of representatives from the boards of commissioners from those counties.

Bryan said she and her board believe in the dedication of staff and the importance of their public health mission to the community. Bryan said they have been listening, performing assessments, and formulating plans to keep the organization moving forward.

“We’re looking to have a consistent operational leader that can handle day-to-day operations, including budget questions and (human resources) for complaints that are coming up from staff,” she said.

A deputy health officer would work closely with Bryan and serve as a liaison when Bryan is not in the office. Bryan, who also manages District Health Department No 2, is contracted to provide services to DHD No. 4.

The contract currently requires her to be physically present at a DHD No. 4 office two days a week and represent the Health Department as needed.

The position will be posted internally for five days. Bryan said the department’s Executive Board, which is part of the full board, would be involved during a second interview of a selected candidate, who would receive a $3,000 to $3,500 increase to their salary if named to the position.

Bryan also provided the board with a list of suggestions made by staff at an advisory staff committee meeting. Bryan said many of the suggestions, such as having a 30-minute lunch and being able to leave early on Friday, were union issues and needed to be discussed with the board.

A number of changes will be made at the health department, Bryan said, including that quarterly meetings of the Executive Board to discuss the department’s budget, human resources, and any concerns commissioners may have.

Bryan will also implement a recognition program through which employees who go the extra mile will receive certificates of recognition. She said District Health Department No. 2 does so, and the certificates allow leadership to give “real-time feedback” and make employees feel more valued.

“It’s just a little something, one extra step for leadership, but I think it’s going to be really important as we’re changing over and trying to change different culture issues,” she said.

Bryan on Tuesday also confirmed Personal Health Nursing Director Karen Nowicki-Compeau is no longer with Health Department No. 4, but refused to say why. She was part of Bryan’s leadership team.

Additionally, two members of the department’s leadership team spoke on behalf of Bryan. Personal Health Nursing Supervisor Leah Werth said she was compelled to speak, “because too often we hear the negative.”

“She really has helped me grow tremendously as a supervisor and continues to mentor me in that role,” she told the board. “I greatly appreciate that.”

Emergency Services Coordinator Matt Radocy said he has thoroughly enjoyed working with Bryan over the past couple of years.

“I feel like I’ve grown personally and professionally under her leadership,” he said. “I’m much more confident in my own abilities because of her leadership, and I look forward to serving the community under her leadership in the future.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.