OC Health Official Resigns Abruptly

SANTA ANA (CNS) - In the midst of combating the coronavirus pandemic, Orange County officials today are looking for a new public health director amid the abrupt resignation of the department's de facto chief.

David Souleles, who has been the county's deputy agency director of public health services since the end of 2003, had been filling in for Richard Sanchez, who stepped down as Orange County Health Care Agency director last month to take over as the head of CalOptima, which provides insurance for the county's indigent.

When Sanchez took his new post, Souleles had been in the spotlight when officials presented updates on the department's efforts in fighting COVID-19. On Tuesday, Souleles presented a preliminary plan for the eventual reopening of Orange County to the Board of Supervisors.

On Monday, Souleles informed county CEO Frank Kim and the Health Care Agency's interim director, Bob Wilson, that he was retiring.

Souleles' last day in office will be May 1, he said in his resignation letter.

“I am proud of the accomplishments of public health over the past 16 years I have been here, and know that the staff in Public Health Services will continue to do good work moving forward,” Souleles wrote in the resignation letter addressed to Wilson.

On Wednesday, Souleles sent an internal email to staff announcing his plans to step down.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee told City News Service the news was “disappointing.”

“He seemed to be doing, in my view, an excellent job,” Chaffee said. “He had a good grasp of everything.”

Officials had appeared to be grooming Souleles to take over for Sanchez.

“I thought he would be the leading candidate to replace Richard Sanchez,” Chaffee said. “I think there is disappointment, because he was doing a great job for us.”

Chaffee did not know why Souleles decided to resign in the middle of the pandemic.

“There's something personal there, but he's not shared it with me,” Chaffee said, speculating there may have been “too much stress” with the job. The supervisor added there may be a morale problem within the agency, but that everyone is dealing with those kinds of issues under the quarantine conditions.

Chaffee suggested Lilly Simmering, the assistant director of the county Health Care Agency, as a possible interim head of the department.

“She's near the top,” he said. “She will give us good coordination there and there are some awfully good people over there, but this is disappointing.”

Kim is in charge of hiring a new chief of the Health Care Agency, but, “I'm sure he'll look to the board for an opinion before making a choice,” Chaffee said.

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