Orange County Health Official Resigns Abruptly

Orange County Health Official Resigns Abruptly
Nurses and supporters protest about the lack of personal protective gear available at UCI Medical Center amid the CCP virus pandemic in Orange, Calif., on April 3, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
City News Service

SANTA ANA (CNS)—In the midst of combating the CCP virus pandemic, Orange County officials on April 23 are looking for a new public health director amid the abrupt resignation of the department's de facto chief.

David Souleles has been the county's deputy agency director of public health services since the end of 2003. He 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.

Souleles, who is in charge of public health for the Health Care Agency, took the spotlight for the county on COVID-19 issues when Sanchez took his new post. On April 21, Souleles presented a preliminary plan for the eventual reopening of Orange County to the Board of Supervisors.

On April 20, 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.

"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 his resignation letter addressed to Wilson.

On April 22, Souleles sent an internal email to staff announcing his plans to retire from government service after "nearly 32 years of professional experience working in public health."

He added: "I am looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time with family in the weeks and months ahead. It has been a pleasure and an honor serving with each and everyone of you. Together as a team we have done great work to protect and improve the health of our community. You are truly an exceptional team of dedicated public health professionals and our neighbors are better off for the work that you do."

Kim said that Lilly Simmering, the assistant director of the county Health Care Agency, will take over for Souleles while a new chief of public health is recruited.

"We have a staff behind David that's 2,700 employees strong," Kim said. "I think we're going to be OK, but we're working on our backup plan, as you can imagine, as fast as we can."

Kim said he has finished job interviews for a new Health Care Agency director and expects to make an announcement on April 27.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee said the news of Souleles' departure 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 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, 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.

He said he expected Kim to look "to the board for an opinion before making a choice" on a permanent replacement.

Two More COVID-19 Deaths Reported

Orange County reported two more virus-related deaths on April 23, bringing the total to 36.

The county also announced 78 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing that number to 1,827.

Overall, there have been 170 virus cases in the county's nursing homes, with 102 residents diagnosed with COVID-19, and 68 staffers falling ill to the virus.

Two residents of Huntington Valley Health Care Center in Huntington Beach—aged 77 and 79—died this week. Fourteen other patients are hospitalized, and 24 staffers have tested positive for the virus.

County officials have contracted with a temporary nursing staffing agency to make sure there are enough emergency medical technicians to help in the event that nursing home staffers refuse to report for work.

Orange County's chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, said earlier this week that health officials believe that the "statewide stay-at-home order has been effective."

Increased Testing

A key step in lifting restrictions is to increase testing, and Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) officials began a new network of tests for COVID-19 on April 21.

Before abruptly resigning, Souleles announced six testing sites spread out through the county. Initially, the county is expected to boost tests by 600 per day.

Residents who have symptoms related to the virus who lack insurance or cannot get a test through their health care provider can now go to AltaMed sites in Anaheim and Santa Ana, as well as Nhan Hoa Comprehensive Health Care Clinic in Garden Grove, and various UC Irvine Health sites.

"Our goal is to get 10 sites up and running in the next two weeks, so we can get up to 1,000 tests per day, and then move onto 2,000 tests per day next month," Souleles said.

Ultimately, the county is aiming to test about 640,000 residents.

Previously, only severely ill patients were being tested because of the scarcity of supplies, Souleles said, but "now we are opening it up to anybody who is symptomatic."

The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party's cover-up and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.