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Ukiah family doctor hired as public health officer for Mendocino County

A Ukiah family doctor is set to take over as public health officer for Mendocino County, replacing Dr. Noemi Doohan, whose departure for another health care job in San Diego County had been planned before the coronavirus pandemic.

After a monthslong search, Mendocino County supervisors agreed in closed session Tuesday to offer the job to Dr. Howard Andrew “Andy” Coren, a physician with Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Office for Family Practice. Coren has accepted the position, county officials confirmed Wednesday.

There is no firm date for Coren to begin work as full-time public health officer, though local officials expect him to start within a few weeks. Doohan will remain in the position part-time until Coren assumes the roll.

Coren’s annual salary has not been finalized, county officials said. According to the job posting for the public health officer position, Coren’s pay will be between $169,478.40 and $206,003.20 a year.

Doohan and Coren both declined to comment on Wednesday.

John Haschak, chairman of the Mendocino County supervisors, said he doesn’t anticipate Coren to significantly diverge from Doohan’s approach to issuing emergency public health directives, managing hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients or other pandemic responses.

“I don’t want to see a change in direction,” Haschak said. “We’ve been doing well so far. And certainly our numbers are surging, so we need to stay the course.”

Last week, Doohan issued an updated public health order in anticipation of the state adding Mendocino County to its coronavirus watchlist for counties, including Sonoma, struggling most to contain the spread of the virus. Effective late Friday night, the county will close gyms, barbershops, nail salons, indoor malls, nonessential offices and places of worship, unless they can operate outdoors.

Doohan started as interim public health officer in August 2019 after working as a residency director at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Hospital. She had planned to step down as health officer in March to take a job as an assistant residency director at a Chula Vista medical center. Then the pandemic emerged and Doohan delayed her departure. The county supervisors agreed to extend her employment contract through at least the end of 2020.

In an interview in May, Doohan said she had accepted the job in Chula Vista before taking over as Mendocino County’s interim health officer.

“While I was only planning to be the health officer as a bridge to (the county) finding a permanent health officer, I couldn’t in good conscience leave when the pandemic hit,” Doohan said two months ago.

For the past three months, the county supervisors have agreed to allow Doohan to work mostly remotely from San Diego County. In July, Doohan scaled back her public health officer duties for Mendocino County to part-time since she began her new job in Chula Vista, said Sarah Dukett, the deputy chief executive of Mendocino County.

The county is paying Doohan $125 an hour for 15 hours of work a week. The federal government will reimburse the county for 75% of the cost of her extended contract under President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic, Dukett said. Coren’s salary will not be reimbursed.

In May, the Mendocino County supervisors said they would appoint Dr. Joseph Iser, a former chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, as public health officer. But supervisors quickly rescinded the offer to Iser after news stories surfaced about Isler’s frequent absences as health officer led to his departure from the Nevada health district.

Supervisor Ted Williams said Wednesday that while the search for a full-time county public health officer has taken longer than he expected, he’s happy with the choice of Coren. He pointed to Coren’s familiarity with the local community in Mendocino County and that he’s bilingual as reasons why he expects the doctor will be an effective public health officer.

“He speaks Spanish fluently, and that’s been an area of weakness for us,” Williams said. “... Seeing the disparity of (COVID-19 infections) in the Latino community, I think he’ll take an active role.”

As of Wednesday, Mendocino County reported 217 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, nearly 60% of them Latino. Also, the county has reported three deaths and nine hospitalizations, including one person in intensive care.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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