Top OC Health Official Defends Dual Role

August 28, 2020 Updated: August 28, 2020

Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau on Aug. 27 defended his performance as the county’s chief health officer after the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to make his dual role permanent two days earlier.

Chau, a physician who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, faced questions from the California county’s local news outlets during a press conference in which he was asked whether serving in two different positions created a conflict of interest. He said that was a difficult question to answer.

“My work these last two months I hope have proven that I’m capable to do the job,” Chau said. “I have publicly said the decisions that I make are based on science.”

Chau called it a “big surprise” that he was chosen to continue in the position of chief health officer, and said the dual role required working long hours.

County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said she believes there will be no conflict of interest and that Chau was chosen out of 10 potential candidates because it may have been more difficult to bring in someone new during a pandemic.

She said he was the “perfect candidate” at this time, but the situation might change in the future.

“We chose Dr. Chau because during the pandemic, we really need to work together, and we saw that he’s been working very hard since June, and he was doing a great job,” Steel said.

“Dr. Chau’s good relationship with the state and his ability to work well under the high pressure of both jobs during a public health crisis was another major factor in our decision. …. He has proven to be able to carry out his duties in both roles in an effective and competent manner.”

Chau took over the dual role after former chief health officer Dr. Nichole Quick resigned suddenly on June 8. Quick’s countywide mandatory mask order spurred backlash from local residents, who disclosed her home address during a board meeting and protested outside her house.

A few days after taking over, Chau rescinded the county’s mask mandate—but said he was supportive of the statewide requirement when it was issued on June 18.

Chau was hired as Health Care Agency director in May. Prior to that, he had worked for the agency’s Behavioral Health Services team from 1999–2012.

Most recently, Chau worked for Mind OC, a nonprofit created to support the mental health center Be Well OC. He has also worked for Providence Health System and L.A. Care Health Plan, the nation’s largest nonprofit health care plan, and has taught at the University of California–Los Angeles and the University of California–Irvine.

According to the Health Officers Association of California, the county’s health officer has 171 distinct duties, including the authority to take action to prevent the spread of disease. The health officer also acts as the county’s registrar of births and deaths, and holds the position for all cities in the county unless they have appointed one of their own.


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