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Shawnee Co. Health Officer to step down at the end of year

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 10:05 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Shawnee County’s top medical officer will leave his post at the end of the year.

Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino told Shawnee Co. Commissioners Thursday morning that he does not plan to renew his contract as Public Health Officer, citing “personal reasons” as the main factor in his decision.

“Being part of the incredible group of leaders who have guided Shawnee County through what has been arguably the most difficult public health challenge in modern history has been my highest honor,” he said.

“Shawnee County is lucky to have dedicated, skilled workers who I’m certain will continue to work incessantly to protect the residents in Shawnee County as they have done for months.”

Pezzino has held the position since January 2007.

His career as Health Officer includes work on community health improvement plans, addressing topics including obesity, mental health and inequities in health care.

Most recently, he spearheaded the county’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioners Aaron Mays credited Pezzino for handling the unforeseen situation.

“The work you’ve done over the years in Shawnee County-- I know that it’s never been about the job for you but more about the mission and I really appreciate the work you’ve done for the betterment of our citizens," he told Pezzino.

Commissioner Kevin Cook said Pezzino’s successor needs to be able to handle a wide amount of responsibilities.

“We really want to find a person that’s going to be able address not just the pandemic because a health officer is more than that being able to address shots, medications when we would address public health outbreaks when we’d address public health improvement plan and future needs for Shawnee County,” he said.

Shawnee Co. Health Department Director Linda Ochs said he will be a challenge to replace.

“We have been very fortunate to have someone of Dr. Pezzino’s caliber as our Health Officer in Shawnee County. Over the last 13 years he has had an active role in helping to improve the health of our community in addition to guiding disease outbreaks and providing orders for our vaccination and STD clinics; his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and willingness to “go the extra mile” to protect the citizens of Shawnee County are greatly appreciated.”

Pezzino said he’s been thinking about his decision for several weeks.

“The end of a contract period is a good time to reflect what worked what didn’t work and what to do my contract is coming to an end in a couple months and I decided this was the right time to do this,” he said.

“I think it can be a good thing for somebody with fresh legs... and fresh eyes and some renewed enthusiasm and energy that we are certainly going to need in the coming months and winter.”

Pezzino said it’s important that residents remain alert.

“I know we are all tired but don’t give up because the virus is not tired, because the virus is not giving up,” he said.

“We need to be particularly careful moving into the winter that we don’t make things worse by congregating inside during holidays with large groups of people...we will get over this but the upcoming months are going to be hard.”

Officials say the search for Pezzino’s replacement will begin in the next few weeks.

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