Deputy health officer picked for Jackson County Health Department

JACKSON, MI — Jackson County has hired a deputy officer to assist the current interim director of its health department.

Kristin Pluta began in her role as deputy health officer on Monday, Aug. 16. She will work on site at the Jackson County Health Department, overseeing staff, working through budgets and running day-to-day business under the oversight of Interim Health Officer Debra Kubitskey.

According to her LinkedIn page, Pluta has been a grant coordinator with Jackson County since 2017. She has a master’s degree in health/health care administration/management from the University of Phoenix and a bachelor of science degree in health services/allied health/health sciences from Grand Valley State University.

Prior to joining the county, Pluta worked for the United Way of Jackson County’s Project Access, managing a program that provided donated primary health care to enrolled patient, Kubitskey said.

“We believe that Kristin will be very successful in her new role, where she can put her phenomenal writing and organizational skills to work at a new level,” County Administrator Mike Overton said.

Jackson County has been without a permanent health officer since Rashmi Travis left the job on March 19.

Related: Former health officer had tense relationship with Jackson County commissioners, emails show

Emails obtained by MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot at the time of her departure show Travis had a tense relationship with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, which may have considered forcing Travis out if she hadn’t resigned.

Tensions between the nine-member board and the health department grew as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grow and restrictions were imposed. This disagreement was publicly displayed during commission meetings.

Travis submitted a single sentence letter of resignation, records show.

Kubitskey, whose background is in government and court administration, was then placed in the interim role. She also serves as an assistant county administrator.

Earlier this year — and with help from Henry Ford Allegiance Health — the county unsuccessfully searched for a new permanent health officer who meets the “statutory requirements” for the position, Kubitskey said.

According to the Michigan Administrative Code, a health officer must have any of these qualifications:

  • A master’s degree in public health or a master’s of science degree and three years of full-time public health administrative experience
  • A related graduate degree and five years of full-time public health administrative experience
  • A bachelor’s degree and eight years of full-time public health experience, five years of which have been in the administration of a broad range of public health programs.

Recruitment for health officers with the required credentials can be challenging for local governments, said Lynn Sutfin, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman.

“Acting positions allow for transition between fully-appointed leadership,” Sutfin said.

Michigan law allows governing bodies to appoint someone with no public health experience to fill a vacant health officer role for up to six months. The law also allows an acting health officer to arrange for consultation and advice from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

A longer appointment can be renewed with approval from the state health director, according to Michigan law.

Jackson County has worked with the state to extend Kubitskey as acting health officer for up to a two- to three-year period, to train Pluta to take over the permanent role, Kubitskey said.

Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified Jackson County as having a “high” COVID-19 transmission rate.

Related: COVID protocols not changing in Jackson County despite ‘high’ transmission rate, health officials said

Counties categorized as having a high transmission rate see more than 100 cases of COVID-19 per week per capita and/or have a positivity rate of more than 10%. The CDC is prompting residents to return to masking indoors, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

According to CDC data as of Aug. 16, Jackson County has a weekly rate of 136.90 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, while the weekly death rate is zero. Approximately 50.3% of Jackson County residents age 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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