Head of LA County health department, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, to resign (updated)

Dr. Jonathan Fielding receives the Visionary Award at the Venice Family Clinic's 35th Annual Silver Circle Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 3, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. On Wednesday, Fielding sent a staff memo announcing that he would be leaving his post as director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health once a successor could be found.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding receives the Visionary Award at the Venice Family Clinic's 35th Annual Silver Circle Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 3, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. On Wednesday, Fielding sent a staff memo announcing that he would be leaving his post as director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health once a successor could be found. Michael Buckner/Getty Images for VFC

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, has announced he will resign.

Fielding, who has been with the department for the past 16 years, announced in a staff memo on Wednesday that he would step down once a successor has been found to take his place.

Fielding told KPCC's Nick Roman that he is proud of his work, but said there is much more to be done.

Under his direction, public health became its own county department, he told KPCC. Fielding listed his team's accomplishments, including increased emergency preparedness,  the restaurant grading system, a reduction in tobacco use, an increase in physical activity, a halt in the increase of the childhood obesity rate and efforts to reduce the threat of lead poisoning in low-income areas.

"We still have huge disparities in health, and those disparities can be in part addressed in better medical care and better access to care," he told KPCC. "The majority of what determines health in populations and the differences in health between populations is in our economic and our social and our physical environment.

"We have to be concerned about education," Fielding said, "which is the biggest determinant of health overall. … We have to be concerned about poverty. Poverty is a poison, and the widening disparities only contribute to the problem."

Fielding thanked his colleagues in his memo to staff.

"It has been a great pleasure to work with each and every one of you over the years. With your assistance as Public Health Ambassadors, together we have changed the capacity and face of public health in the most populous county in the nation," Fielding wrote in his memo to staff.

In his position as top doctor, Fielding has been responsible for overseeing matters of public health for the nation's most populous county, maintaining, according to the department's website, a staff of 4,000 and an annual budget exceeding $750 million.

Fielding has been a professor in UCLA's schools of medicine and public health and said in his announcement that he plans "to return to UCLA to help train future public health leaders and do research on how we can be even more effective."

Below is the full text from the memo:

TO: All Public Health Staff

FROM: Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H.
Director and Health Officer

I have been very privileged to have been your colleague over the past 16 years. After considerable thought, I have decided to leave County service when a successor, whom I understand will be identified through a nationwide executive search, is ready to assume the post. I plan to return to UCLA to help train future public health leaders and do research on how we can be even more effective.

It has been a great pleasure to work with each and every one of you over the years. With your assistance as Public Health Ambassadors, together we have changed the capacity and face of public health in the most populous county in the nation. Due to your commitment to mission, drive, and hard work to improve health in our county, your Department is viewed as one of the best local health departments in the nation.

Here are some of the many events and accomplishments that have contributed to our high standing:

  • Established as a separate County department.
  • Became a respected source of accurate information on many diseases and environmental threats.
  • Greatly increased emergency preparedness.
  • Mounted the largest immunization activity in the history of the county in our H1 N1 response.
  • Built a state of the art public health laboratory and the first of a new generation of public health centers.
  • Implemented the widely used LA Public Health Survey.
  • Reduced food-borne illness through an immensely popular and widely imitated restaurant grading system.
  • Established effective programs to reduce tobacco use and increase physical activity. Helped to stop the increase in childhood obesity.
  • Increased the accountability of our many contractors who provide essential services to county residents.
  • Increased our response to both old and new environmental threats.
  • Secured a court judgment of over $600 million to reduce the threat of lead poisoning in low-income county residences.
  • Authored a 37 chapter book on what works in public health based on our wide ranging experiences.

This list is only a small sample of the highlights of our work together. Each program and office could add important advances in our ability to tackle public health problems in our County. I salute you — your dedication to public health, and your commitment to fulfill our mission — Healthy People in Healthy Communities.

With your help I am confident that our Department will continue to make a difference in the lives of every resident of our great County.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misquoted Dr. Fielding  in stating that public health became its own city department during his time in office. He had said it had become its own county dept. 

This story has been updated. 

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