High hopes for changing of the guard

The past eight months in Butte County have been rough, and it’s safe to say the Public Health Department has had more than a lot on its plate. While we hesitate to guess why its director, Cathy Raevsky, chose to retire in March, we certainly have sympathy for the amount of stress she’d likely experienced in the five months prior.

The Camp Fire introduced a huge number of unforeseen public health issues, from air quality to emotional distress to water contamination. Suddenly people were living in RVs, on couches, in their cars, even in tents outside of Walmart. Norovirus hit survivors staying in at least one emergency shelter; a measles outbreak complicated matters months later. Meanwhile, historical data indicate that depression escalates after a disaster, as do domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

All of these things have taken a toll on the health of our collective communities.

We mention this because earlier this month, Butte County welcomed a new director, Danette York, who hails from rural Washington (see “To our health”). She has a good amount of experience, but none in disaster recovery, so she has her work cut out for her. We are encouraged by her statement to us that “our job in public health is education first and foremost, to make sure people are prepared with information.”

The CN&R agrees. We have a long history of informing the public, so we know when public agencies miss the mark. When it comes to the Camp Fire, we haven’t been shy about criticizing those who haven’t risen to meet the challenge.

We were critical of York’s predecessor—in particular, for not issuing guidelines or warnings to protect the health of residents returning to the Ridge, where there was no potable water in some parts and contamination in others. In the absence of adequate guidance from the state, an issue this newspaper has chronicled in recent months, we believe it was Raevsky’s job to take charge and provide a unified message to the community.

With this changing of the guard, our expectation is that there’s a top-down approach to re-evaluating what’s needed to protect the health and wellness of the community and implementing changes posthaste.