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CCHD begins search for new public health director

MURRAY – The Calloway County Health Department (CCHD) is looking for a new public health director after Jamie Hughes tendered his resignation to the Calloway County Board of Health last month. After two-and-a-half years serving in the role of director, Hughes stepped down Friday to join the human resources (HR) department at Baptist Health Paducah. 

“A position came up that is going to be a good fit for me and allow me to work in more of my area of expertise in the HR field,” Hughes explained. “People from this community who know me know that I am a person of faith and always will be, and I feel like things are not by accident. You don’t accidentally come upon a job as a (public health) director. Those things don’t just happen; I believe there is a reason behind it. … I feel like where I’m going is where I’m supposed to be next.” 

Calloway County was in the thralls of the Delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when Hughes took the reins in September 2021. While he had been the HR manager at the Marshall County Health Department (MCHD) for four years, he had no experience being a public health director. Three months in, the Omicron wave hit, bringing daily case counts nearly three times higher than previous records, but under his leadership, CCHD weathered the storm.  

Since that time, CCHD has grown from a staff of 12 to 15. Hughes revised numerous outdated policies, overhauled the fee schedule for environmental services and bolstered benefits packages for employees, among other things across his tenure. All the while meticulously keeping track of everything, yielding well-organized notes and spreadsheets to pass along to the next director. 

“Jamie has done a superb job since he became our Health Department Director,” Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes wrote in an email. “He has had good working relationships with both the local (Board of Health) and with the state officials. He has been excellent in getting state mandated rules and regulations, which are at times difficult to follow and understand, running very smoothly. Also, Jamie has been a good steward of taxpayers’ money in efficiently running the department.” 

Interestingly, Hughes’ background is not in public health. The Calloway County native holds a master’s degree in HR. He served as a minister at Poplar Spring Baptist Church until he joined the faculty at Mid-Continent University, teaching human resources (HR). Hughes said he had planned to retire from Mid-Continent, but his plans abruptly changed when the university laid off its entire staff in April 2014 ahead of its closure in June of that year.

He began working in public health in 2017, when he started at MCHD. There is often a steep learning curve for professionals entering the field because practice applications are unique when they are designed to address the health of a population – as opposed to an individual. Addressing public health concerns is also a function of government; therefore, health departments are strictly regulated through federal and state laws.

“When I started in public health, I learned a lot about how things are run through regs (regulations), how policies and procedures are a little different because they’re built on regs, being able to work with employees and understand the retirement system and its three tiers; there’s just a lot of different things that run in public health, and I had the opportunity to spend some time at Marshall, learning those things. 

“I had been a part of our COVID response (team) at Marshall. Basically, at that point in time, if you were in COVID response, you were just in COVID response. Even though my job was more admin side of it, I learned how to swab noses; I drove our RV around when we did testing and vaccines, and all those things. So, when (the CCHD director) position opened, I felt like I’ve been in that, so it’s not like anything that is new to me. So, when I came over here, I brought in some experience, but again, it was kind of new.” 

Hughes gave the credit for his success transitioning into the director role to Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack and his focused efforts to foster collaboration between health departments. 

“He has built a network of directors that help one another, that cross county boundaries across the state,” Hughes said. In that spirit, the new director was assigned a mentor, Hopkins County Health Department Director Denise Beach. “She helped me with things when I had questions. She came up here and met with me.”

“Every health department has its own personality depending on what the community needs, and a lot of times, that brings the directors that are needed for that kind of personality,” he continued, adding that, with that, comes different areas of expertise. “So, being able to access all of that was great. For me, coming in as a director was so much easier because of the network Dr. Stack had set up. I think if you talk to any director, you’d hear the same thing.”

Hughes said that is one thing he will miss about working in public health – coming up with creative solutions to problems impacting the community, whether that is helping residents meet their nutritional needs, monitoring infectious diseases, ensuring that local restaurants are safely storing and preparing the food they serve or addressing problems that surface in the aftermath of natural disasters. 

“One of the best things about working in public health is working with the community in a different way,” Hughes said. “For example, during the flood (that occurred in eastern Kentucky in July 2022), some of the roads they needed to use to get to people, they couldn’t really use. They were using horses to get to some of these places, to go give people shots or vaccines or whatever was needed, so health departments were literally using ATVs and things like that to get to people. 

“There’s something special about that – and I’m not saying hospitals wouldn’t do that – in public health, that’s our job. How do we get to them? And how do we help them? They can’t always come to you – it would be great if they could – but how do we go to them when they need us to? I use the flood as an example, but there are many. Public health does so many things, and it’s continually changing. As people change, culture changes, how (public health) operates will change. I’m excited to see what that is.” 

Although he is moving on, Hughes said he is grateful for being able to serve the residents of Calloway County, specifically. 

“It’s been great to be a part of the community that I was born and raised in, met the love of my life in. I’ve lived in (several places), but if anyone ever asks me where my ‘home’ is, I always say, ‘Murray;’ and it always will be. So, I really do appreciate the opportunity to serve the community as director for the period of time that I did.”

Now, the search is on for a new public health director. In the meantime, Stephanie Hays, who worked for CCHD for 25 years until she retired from her position as finance administrator last year, has returned as interim director. 

“In beginning to think about an interim director, Stephanie Hays was on the very top of each of the board member’s mind,” Imes wrote. “Her years of previous service at our health department has been an extremely valuable asset with a thorough knowledge of all the different duties that are required of the department as well as the human resources and fiscal aspects.”

Hughes expressed similar sentiments, saying that he takes comfort in knowing that the department will be in good hands with Hays at the helm.

“Ultimately, she knows how to get it done and knows how (CCHD) should operate to operate efficiently,” Hughes said. “She has years and years of experience working specifically here (at CCHD); she is a Calloway County native; I know she has the health department’s best interest in mind; and she has the trust of the board. With all of that, I can feel comfortable knowing that there should be no hiccups whatsoever. 

“I think, when the next director comes, that (CCHD) will not be disheveled or in any kind of bad situation but that it will be moving forward. They will just get on a moving train; now, they’re the conductor, but it’s been moving the whole time.” 

Imes added that the board has confidence in Hays and her ability to effectively lead the department. Because of that, there is no sense of urgency to make a “snap decision” or otherwise rush the process, which can be quite lengthy due to bureaucratic “red tape” involved with state government, just to fill the vacancy; the board can take its time in finding the right candidate for the permanent position. 

For more information about the public health director position, including the necessary qualifications, visit CCHD’s Facebook page. Applications are submitted online and will be accepted from now until Friday, March 22, at 4:30 p.m.  

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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