Retiring County Public Health Leader Reflects on H1N1, Childhood Obesity
June 5, 2012
In his 42-year career, Dr. Hugh Stallworth says he's never seen anything like the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemic. And as he prepares to retire June 15, he's seen just about everything, from flu to tuberculosis to West Nile virus.
After eight years leading the Monterey County Health Department, Stallworth announced his retirement Monday. Deputy Health Officer Lisa Hernandez will take over as interim, then plans to apply to be the next county health officer, which Stallworth says leaves the department—and the public—in good hands.
"I’ve been mentoring her," he says. "She has been in the trenches with me. She’s no novice; she’s going to hit the ground running."
One of Stallworth's proudest accomplishments is handling the H1N1 flu outbreak without panic. "We resisted the fear and used science to drive what we needed to do. In Monterey County, we didn’t close one school, yet didn’t suffer any disproportionate illness or death," he says.
He's also proud of improving stakeholder relationships, particularly with the media. "The media is critical in getting information out to the public," he says. "The media has helped me inform, not alarm."
Stallworth says his successor's most challenging public health issue will be one that's facing the entire nation: childhood obesity. "We see 11-, 12-year-old kids with Type II diabetes, something we never even conceived of before," he says. "That’s not going to go away.
"It’s go to have to be an entire community effort. If we don’t solve that one, the prediction is this is the first generation where parents might outlive their kids. That’s one of my greatest concerns."
Stallworth's overseen county response to outbreaks, as well as strategies for addressing chronic health issues like smoking and obesity, as well as managing ongoing monitoring programs such as bacteria counts at popular beaches.