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Health district will offer top job to Californian

Sat., Oct. 18, 2008

The Spokane Regional Health District plans to hire a new health officer next week after a two-year search.

An employment contract will be offered to Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, health officer of El Dorado County, Calif.

Eberhart-Phillips met Friday with health district board members, employees and representatives of community organizations that work closely with the district.

The board voted unanimously during a closed-door meeting Friday to hire Eberhart-Phillips. Health District Chairman Dave Crump will present a contract next week. The salary range for the job – which requires a medical degree and a master’s in public health – is $130,000 to $145,000.

Eberhart-Phillips has the credentials and demeanor to lead the district, Crump said. His interests vary: He wants to work with community planners, for example, to create neighborhoods that encourage walking and physical activity; he also wants to work with staff on budgeting priorities and savings.

“I am interested in Spokane,” he said. “This is a community with vision of public health; with a wonderful district and a depth of talent.”

He’ll likely face a challenge. Health districts statewide are coping with budget cuts, forcing administrators to pare programs and lay off employees.

Eberhart-Phillips, 51, spoke carefully about issues that come before the district. The district had faced criticism for providing funding to Planned Parenthood; Eberhart-Phillips said he supports family planning services as a matter of public health.

He also called fluoride in public drinking water “a very effective way to reduce tooth decay in the general population.” Spokane voters have rejected public water fluoridation several times. But dentists, doctors and health officials have said it would help reverse problems with tooth decay among the poor, especially children.

Eberhart-Phillips is a former journalist who and wrote health columns for the El Dorado County health department’s Web site. His columns also appeared in daily newspapers.

His hiring would come about two years after the controversial dismissal of Dr. Kim Thorburn.

The board refused to renew Thorburn’s contract in November 2006. Among other issues, the board alleged communication problems between the health officer and the board’s members, who are elected from Spokane County, the city of Spokane, Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake, along with three community members appointed by county commissioners.

Thorburn had scores of supporters, and her dismissal drew scorn and bewilderment among health professionals and many in the community.

Thorburn now works as executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest. She’s also running for the seat on the Spokane County Commission held by Todd Mielke, one of her toughest critics, who proved instrumental in her ouster.

Crump said Mielke was not part of the selection committee.

Eberhart-Phillips was a leading candidate for the job last year, Crump said. But family considerations forced the physician to withdraw at the time.

When he learned the job was still open months later, he asked that his application be renewed.

He was the only candidate who made it to the final interview stages, Crump said: “We’re delighted to be able to offer him a contract.”


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