Leadership change made in county health officer as resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic hovers on horizon

Posted 7/29/21

Dr. Allison Berry will serve as public health officer for both Jefferson and Clallam counties.

Berry has been Clallam County’s public health officer since 2018, and she was appointed by the …

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Leadership change made in county health officer as resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic hovers on horizon

Posted

Dr. Allison Berry will serve as public health officer for both Jefferson and Clallam counties.

Berry has been Clallam County’s public health officer since 2018, and she was appointed by the Jefferson County Board of Health at its last meeting to be the county’s health officer.

She replaces Dr. Thomas Locke, who was appointed as deputy health officer.

Berry’s contract with Jefferson County for her new role is currently in negotiations.

Locke’s contract remains in place. That employment agreement, approved in March 2013, made Locke a part-time employee who worked eight hours a week, for a yearly salary of $33,030.

The Jefferson County Board of Health approved Berry’s appointment at its July 16 meeting.

In a July 14 letter to the board, Locke told the board he had originally planned to retire from his health officer position in 2019. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans and I resolved to continue working until the worst of the crisis had passed,” Locke told the board in the letter.

He also offered high praise for Berry in her new role.

“I have been enormously impressed with both her skills as a public health physician and her passionate advocacy for marginalized populations — the homeless, incarcerated, impoverished, and those disabled by substance use disorders,” he noted.

County Commissioner Kate Dean told fellow health board members that Locke would be missed.

“Dr. Locke has been such a source of comfort and stability for this community throughout the pandemic. I think there will be some anxiety about losing that,” she said. 

Locke told the board the transition was needed now due to the preparations that need to be done to support full-time, in-person schooling for the coming year amid a likely resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming fall and winter.

“We don’t think the pandemic is over. It’s going to go on for some time,” Locke said. “It’s got a number of challenges ahead. Some known, some unknown.”

It feels like we are running in a relay race, Locke added, and we can’t stop.

“Now is our window of opportunity. We have to keep running and we have to pass the baton successfully,” he said.

Locke told the health board that he has known Berry since she came to the Olympic Peninsula in 2016.

“She, to me, is really the ideal candidate to do this,” he said.

Berry, 36, has been a physician at the Jamestown Family Health Clinic since August 2016.

She earned her medical degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and also was awarded a master’s degree in public health from the university. Berry also holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and music from Lawrence University.

“I bring to this position a deep passion for public health and the role of public health in caring for our most underserved residents in particular,” Berry told the board of health.

She said she was also committed to the scientific independence of the office of the county health officer.

“I think that’s a really key role that we play,” Berry said.

Locke will continue to serve as deputy health officer under his existing employment agreement until the county decides his service is no longer needed.

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