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San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park gives her regular COVID-19 update during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

The Grand Jury of San Joaquin County recently released a report of results from an investigation it conducted on the county’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled “A Fragmented COVID-19 Response Case #0120,” the report reveals that the Grand Jury’s investigation determined that county departments lacked collaboration and communication as well as an understanding about San Joaquin County’s Emergency Operations Plans.

The lack of collaboration “made it difficult to achieve a coordinated response, which delayed the ability to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said a news release sent out by the Superior Court of California.

The Grand Jury’s investigation attributed the lackluster results to the county’s lack of designated leadership, the lack of definitive policies and procedures for emergency response and inadequate training for employees.

The method of investigation by the Grand Jury included conducting 20 interviews of leadership and staff in the various county departments as well as the Board of Supervisors. The jury also reviewed government documents and operational assessments, along with doing internet searches and reading media observations.

In the same report, the Grand jury cited “Public Health Services impediments,” noting that county Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park was part of a hierarchy structure that set her as a subordinate to the Public Health Director, in contrast to most counties in California.

The Public Health Director reports directly to the Healthcare Services director, meaning that Park was three tiers below in the department’s organizational chart.

“By comparison, in other counties the role of the Public Health Services Director is a subordinate or equal role to the Public Health Officer. The PHO, during a declared public emergency, is usually the ultimate authority as provided by the California Health and Safety Code 101040,” reads the report. “The Public Health Officer was often the object of Board, management, and constituent frustration. Despite these hurdles, the Public Health Officer performed admirably and was commended by peers.”

The Grand Jury said that requiring Park to report directly to the Director of Public Health Services impeded her ability to fulfill the statutory requirements of responding to the public health emergency. 

A Series of recommendations and timelines were made to San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, with most recommendations requested to be complied with by March 2022.

Recommendations to the Board cover three primary issues:

• revision of the County’s Public Health Services organizational structure to place the Public Health Officer (PHO) as a direct report to the Director of Health Care Services;

• written clarification of policies for placement and re-call of personnel deployed as disaster service workers; and

• written policies with definitive procedures requiring all County employees who may be called upon to perform disaster service work be trained annually on the County’s Emergency Operation Plan.

• Contact Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 209-835-3030.

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