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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Health officer applicants hard to find

Nearly a year after firing Dr. Kim Thorburn, the Spokane Regional Health District is having trouble finding candidates to replace the former health officer.

More than a month of searching and 376 marketing letters have yielded 10 resumes, and of those, three or four applicants qualify for the post, according to the agency hired to conduct the nationwide search. A dozen other people have inquired about the position but have not submitted applications.

In a typical search, recruiters might expect nearly 40 formal applicants plus other referrals from similar efforts, wrote Jerry Oldani, senior vice president of Waters-Oldani, an executive recruiting firm, in an e-mail to health district officials.

The relatively low proposed salary of $130,000 to $145,000 a year – higher than Thorburn’s $125,000 – could be a factor, Oldani indicated. “There is some feedback on the salary issue, but again that mainly comes from Eastern U.S. applicants, where the cost of living is much higher than in Spokane,” he wrote.

Most of the responses have come from people who are not physicians, Oldani wrote in an e-mail to Administrator Torney Smith and health district board member David Crump.

State law generally requires that a health officer hold a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health. The Spokane post also requires at least five years’ experience in medicine and public health, plus at least a year as a state or local health officer with supervisory duties.

Smith said he wasn’t worried about the low number of applicants and added that the search is still on track to fill the vacant post by January. “It isn’t worrisome if those three or four are qualified candidates,” he said.

Oldani suggested that the search might have to be expanded, but Smith said he was waiting to hear what board members want to do. “My personal response is maybe bring in those three or four people,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Mary Verner agreed Monday, saying that she’d favor interviewing the qualified candidates even if the search was broadened. Verner originally had hoped to hire a new health officer last spring but said a long process to decide the structure of the health district and the requirements for the job prolonged the search. “I sure would have liked for us to have someone in place by now,” she said.

Board members could decide before a scheduled Nov. 29 meeting to interview the qualified applicants, she said.

Crump, the board liaison for the search, said he hoped to press Oldani for more concrete information about other candidates. The board agreed to pay $32,500 to the Seattle affiliate to conduct the search.

The board declined to renew Thorburn’s contract in November 2006, citing communication problems. Thorburn is now medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest. She’s also declared that she’s running for the county commission seat of Todd Mielke.

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