Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry on April 24 announced the hiring of Dr. Theresa Cullen as the new County Public Health Director, effective June 1. Dr. Cullen has had a distinguished career as a public health physician, including retiring as a Public Health Service Officer from the federal government with the rank of Rear Admiral and Assistant U.S. Surgeon General.
Dr. Cullen replaces Dr. Bob England, who began serving as interim Health Director June 7, 2019, after Marcy Flanagan, Phd., left to be the Director of the Maricopa County Health Department. Flanagan took over in Maricopa County from England, who had retired. England agreed to serve as interim Pima County Health Director while the County searched for a replacement for Flanagan.
Dr. England will remain as full-time interim director until June 1, and then will stay on as a part-time physician to see the County through the initial phase of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Dr. Cullen will work part-time for the County starting May 4, serving as Vice Chair of the County’s Back To Business Task Force, which will help determine the criteria, rules and guidance for reopening the economy as the effects of the pandemic lessen.
In her application cover letter, Dr. Cullen wrote of herself, “…my professional career as a physician has included positions within the federal sector as well as academic institutions, spanning multiple interests with the common theme of improving health equity and helping diverse communities achieve health justice.”
In a memorandum to the Board of Supervisors announcing the hire, the County Administrator summed up Dr. Cullen’s experience:
“Dr. Cullen has a long medical and public health career beginning as a family practice physician for the Indian Health Service in San Carlos, Arizona, and subsequently at San Xavier and Sells, Arizona, where she eventually became the Clinical Director. She then became the senior informatics consultant for Indian Health Service for six years; during that time, she was also appointed for one year as the Acting Director for the National Office of Planning and Evaluation for the Indian Health Service in Washington. She was subsequently chosen to be the Chief Information Officer in the Office of Information Technology. After retirement from U.S. Public Health Service, Dr. Cullen became the Chief Medical Information Officer and Director of Health Informatics for the Veterans Health Administration, including a one-year period as the Acting Deputy Director for the DoD/VA Integrated Electronic Health Record Initiative. In her most recent position, Dr. Cullen has been the Deputy Director for Global Health Informatics and an Associate Professor in Family Medicine at Regenstrief Institute/Indiana University.”
She is a graduate of the University of Arizona College of Medicine and also is a clinical associate professor at the medical college.
“This is huge for Pima County. I am thrilled to have Dr. Cullen join our team,” said Pima County Chief Medical Officer and Deputy County Administrator Dr. Francisco Garcia. “Dr. Cullen is a respected and eminent public health physician who also is an exceptional administrator. She knows Pima County and Southern Arizona well and will build upon the strategies and programs we’ve established over the past decade to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone in Pima County.”
Dr. Cullen will add her expertise to the that of Drs. Garcia and England in leading the County’s response to COVID-19. Like Dr. England, she has experience leading a team during a pandemic. During the 2014/15 Ebola crises she was a volunteer physician with Partners in Health in Sierra Leone where she helped establish, manage and staff a maternity Ebola Unit.
Dr. England will step down as director on the best of terms with the County. He had agreed to come out of retirement for three months in the summer of 2019 to serve as the County’s interim Health Director, and then agreed to extend that another six months after the search took longer than expected. That extension ended up lasting until the start of the coronavirus pandemic, in which Dr. England promised he would see the County through the worst of it, including the 18-hour days, seven days a week for the past two-and-a-half months and counting.
“This health crisis would have been quite hard to manage without Dr. England,” Huckelberry said. “Everyone in Pima County owes him a debt of gratitude for his calm, steady and exemplary leadership through this crisis.”
Huckelberry in his memo mentioned to the Board how popular Dr. England has become doing weekday morning COVID-19 video updates shared on social media. The one-to-two-minute daily updates are well-received and appreciated by the public and have been viewed nearly 200,000 times in total.
“I have nothing but enormous respect for Dr. Bob and hope he will soon get to rejoin his wife in Phoenix and resume his retirement. I will miss his wry humor and unvarnished advice. But I’m also confident that we have hired an outstanding public health physician and expert in Dr. Cullen who can lead us through this pandemic, however long it lasts, and help us continue to improve the lives of the people of Pima County,” Huckelberry said.