Dr. Kasirye is the leader we need

Community advocacy groups are pushing for Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County’s public health officer, to be promoted to Health Services director, replacing Peter Beilenson, who is leaving Dec. 22.

Essay: Sacramento County should promote its public health officer to get through COVID-19 pandemic

By Phillip Summers

Sacramento County is experiencing multiple severe crises. First and foremost is the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated social and economic fallout, all of which are nearing a crescendo.

In the midst of this, our leadership is facing its own crisis as the county’s Health Services director is resigning and the county executive has been placed on administrative leave.

However, there is one constant source of expertise and leadership: Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County’s public health officer.

As the CARES Act funding scandal was unfolding, Kasirye acted with immense bravery and integrity, speaking up for what our county needed, but was not receiving from the county executive’s office. That moment exemplified her commitment to the people of this county, as she risked her career and political backlash for the health and well-being of our community. Kasirye is the leader we needed in that moment, and she remains the leader we need as our director of health services.

I applaud the acting County Executive Ann Edwards’ office and the Board of Supervisors for considering Kasirye’s candidacy. I support her immediate appointment. She is the clear choice for this position, and will ensure a smooth transition. She is peerless in her expertise in public health and administrative leadership, both of which are crucial to meet this unprecedented moment.

As a member of the county’s Public Health Advisory Board, I have taken part in regular briefings and numerous discussions with Kasirye and watched her closely. Despite her incredibly busy schedule, every time I raise a concern—from the obvious to the esoteric—I have received a comprehensive, prompt response.

She is thoughtful and effective. She is always on the right side of the issues, with a position rooted firmly in the evidence. She has an intimate understanding of the “big picture” and intersectional complexities, while maintaining attention to detail and focus on tangible outcomes.

She is the clear choice for this position, and will ensure a smooth transition. She is peerless in her expertise in public health and administrative leadership, both of which are crucial to meet this unprecedented moment.

Phillip Summers is a Sacramento emergency medicine and addiction physician and member of the county’s Public Health Advisory Board.

My faith in her capacity as a leader and professional has never wavered. The public, her office and countless county and state officials share this sense of confidence. Her knowledge and talent in public health and administrative savvy are unparalleled, and our county is lucky to have her. She is a qualified professional with years of experience and a record of dedication and exemplary conduct. There is no person better suited to fill this role.

Kasirye is the leader we need right now. Especially in this tumultuous time and with so much at stake, we need continuity, dependability and competence. We need a seamless transition to a strong, experienced and steadfast leader.

She previously filled this role as interim director, and did so very successfully. She has a working knowledge of the history, politics, infrastructure and epidemiology of our county, and has worked closely with the previous director. This first-hand experience is imperative to ensure that we maintain momentum and do not lose ground in the midst of this worsening pandemic, where each passing day is paramount and lives are literally at stake.

We cannot afford to waste time and effort on an external search or bureaucratic hand-wringing while the health and well-being of our community hangs in the balance.

Kasirye should be appointed director of Health Services without delay. Our county needs her and everything she has to offer at this crucial moment.

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