Rio Grande County discusses Public Health Director resignations

RIO GRANDE COUNTY- The Rio Grande County Board of Commissioners released a statement regarding the most recent resignation of Interim Public Health Director Toni Steffens-Steward. Steward turned in her resignation Tuesday, Sept. 8, after serving as the Interim Public Health Director since mid-July.

Steward is the second Interim Director to quit since the county fired Public Health Director Emily Brown. The County reiterated what occurred over the last several months and summed it up in one word: COVID. The board stated again that Brown’s termination had to do with the untimely and inaccurate information not being shared with the Board of Health and the plain refusal from Brown to share pertinent information with law enforcement officials and first responders who may have been responding to a home with positive COVID cases.

The county also stated that once Brown was gone and they hired Public Health Nurse Paul Wertz as the interim director, they were working on reestablishing communication within the department and working to fully staff the department when Wertz quit without notice. The board stated that Wertz came to them with a list of demands, most of which they were willing to comply with, but that Wertz also asked for a 50 percent pay increase which they denied.

It was at this time that Steward came to the board and asked they consider allowing her to help with administrative tasks in the Public Health Department and to wait on hiring a new director until one who had the right qualifications came along. After a few weeks, Steward once again approached the board and agreed to act as the Interim Public Health Director until a new director could be found.

Steward later approached the board and stated that she no longer wanted the position and asked to step down, which according to the county commissioners, they agreed to. Steward agreed at that time to stay as Interim Director just long enough to allow the county to find a replacement. Steward turned in her resignation without notice in the following days. When asked for comment, Steward politely refused to make a statement.

The county has also reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to request a state audit on the department due to grant management discrepancies and other financial issues. CDPHE started the audit Monday, Sept. 14.

Rio Grande County Commissioners are also interviewing several applicants and are working diligently to fill both the Public Health Director position and the County Administrator position.


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