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A Conversation With Interim Meck County Health Director

Charlotte Observer

Next week we will get more insight into proposed fixes for the troubled Mecklenburg County Health Department. Recommendations will be made to a committee looking into the department’s problems. The interim health director has been on the job a little less than two weeks. Gibbie Harris takes over the department as it struggles to rebuild trust after failing to notify nearly 200 women about their abnormal Pap smear results.  

Gibbie Harris returned to government work after a few years as a health consultant. Before working in the private sector, she spent more than two decades as health director in Wake and Buncombe counties.  

“I, throughout my career, enjoyed being involved in positions that present challenge and present opportunity for change and improvement. I think this particular job defines that.” Harris said. “Through consulting work I’ve done I got to know the department a little bit and understand challenges and issues. I thought experience in public health could help benefit this organization.”    

Harris’ consulting firm, Praxis Partners for Health, was hired by Mecklenburg County to review the department. That has brought up concerns of a conflict of interest.

“I understand considering everything that has happened here this past month the concern with conflict of interest. I don’t believe that is a concern,” she said. “I have removed myself from any further assessment work. That is not my role now. My role is as interim health director. So I have severed that particular part of the work that I was involved in. And am now just focused on organization. So I guess, I don’t believe it presents a conflict.”

The county is paying Harris’ firm $25,000 to evaluate the department. Harris said she didn’t know off hand how much has gone to her, but that her partner has taken over the work. That partner will deliver the recommendations for improvements to Harris next week. She didn’t delve into the details of the forthcoming review.

“It focuses on improvements in the clinic as well as looking at some organizational structures,” Harris said. “As well as the organization as a whole. And some other things around quality improvement.”

Harris is waiting until the recommendations are presented next week to officially act on them, but she said she’s been thinking about how to implement improvements.

“I’m not sure there are going to be a whole lot of surprises in the recommendations. So there are some things we are already thinking about how we might implement,” she said. “The staff hasn’t seen them, the board hasn’t seen them, the board will make some suggestions on that. The county manager will make some decisions about which one of those we actually act on.”

Harris said women should now feel confident they will get Pap smear test results from the clinics. That’s because the department has implemented a notification system for test results that is overseen by a team of people. She said the system was supposed to have already been in place.