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Health director search narrowed to 4

MANATEE — A panel of local and state officials has narrowed to four its list of applicants to become Manatee County’s first new health department director in 20 years.

Three of the final four have local ties, including a former senior physician at the local health department and a Sarasota County health official who lives in Manatee County.

The four are Warren McDougle, epidemiology program manager at the Hillsborough County Health Department; Dr. Jennifer Bencie Fairburn, the division director at state’s Department of Emergency Medical Operations; Charles Henry, the Sarasota County Health Department’s environmental administrator; and Dr. Stephen Haering, the director at Lord Fairfax (Va.) Health District.

Haering served as a senior physician at the Manatee County Health Department from Oct. 1, 2003, to June 15, 2005, before leaving for a public health/preventive medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Bencie Fairburn listed family living in southwest Florida on her application as a reason for her interest in the position. Henry lives on Bradenton’s west side.

The health department is replacing Dr. Gladys Branic, who served Manatee County from 1989 until her retirement in early June. Branic was widely praised for her tenure, particularly for creating a community safety net of health services.

Interim director Dr. Mark Yacht, who took over after Branic’s departure, said he will not seek the full-time post. Before replacing Branic, he had been retired after 20 years as Pasco County’s health director.

“I’m just an old man taking care of things,” Yacht said Wednesday. “I’ll leave it to younger folks.”

Yacht said the department and its services are running smoothly, in large part because of Branic’s steady hand.

“Whoever comes in is coming into what I call a turn-key operation. It’ll be ready to go,” he said.

The seven-member panel made up of state and local officials has sent its prioritized list of candidates to the state for approval, said Fred Loveland, the director of the county’s Community Services program and a committee member.

Now it’s up to the state to ratify the panel’s top pick. If it does, the Manatee County Commission could vote to install the new director when it returns from its summer recess July 28.

Mike Sentman, the Florida Department of Health’s statewide services director, said his office will send the county commission a letter early next week with the state’s selection. There were 46 applicants for the position.

Other local members of the selection panel included Dr. Aaron Sudbury, a Bradenton obstetrician/gynecologist; Bill Little, Sarasota County’s health department’s executive director; Mary Ruiz, Manatee Glens CEO; and John Burns, Manatee County Health Department spokesman.