New JCHD executive director ready to engage community, former director leaves legacy

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, August 8, 2023

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The Jessamine County Health Department (JCHD) recently said goodbye to its executive director of 11 years, Randy Gooch, and welcomed its new director, Ann Stevens.

Stevens started her career in public health in 2003 after working for a nursing home. After the nursing home was sold, she began an internship in Mercer County.

“Once I got there, I just loved the team atmosphere, the community involvement, and working in clinics,” Stevens said.

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She was then transferred to Lake Cumberland, where she worked with Gooch for several years.

Because she was at Lake Cumberland for an extended amount of time, Stevens said she was “provided a lot of insight because it’s a ten county district health department. I traveled to all ten of those counties. I live in Lincoln, so sometimes the drive was two hours away.”

At the JCHD, Stevens has worked as the clinic director and the population health director. This month marks her 20th anniversary of working in public health, and now she’s the executive director. Working in this role has been a dream of hers for ten years.

When Stevens heard the news, she was surprised but “very thankful.”

However, she admits that following Randy Gooch’s time as the director can be slightly intimidating, but “to work alongside him for so many years, I’ve been able to learn so much of his leadership style.”

Stevens said it will likely make the transition of leadership at the health department much easier. “If I can be half the director he was, then I think it will be a success.”

Stevens also said she was excited.

She wants to attend local group meetings and get more involved in the community. Because of COVID, Stevens also looks forward to catching up on forced setbacks.

“We want to make sure we’re promoting public health, promoting wellness, and I think with COVID, we all got set back on that because, before COVID, we were in the schools and the community. So I want to start that again,” Stevens said. “We’re in a transition period right now going back to in-person (work and services). That’ll be one of our challenges. We are to start back in service with patients around August 10, so that will be a transition for the clinic staff. Still, then even as far as our meetings, we’ve been doing all of our (staff) meetings on Zoom and just getting those people back at the table in person, I think they’re a lot more productive.”

Still- the flexibility of remote services drastically increased the JCHD’s patient numbers.

“It was easier for a mom with young kids to have a visit on the telephone versus coming into the clinic. Currently, the USDA is trying to determine guidelines to keep some of those services remote and have a small number of services that will have to come back into the clinic,” Stevens said.

She’s still determining how that will play out.

Gooch leaves a lasting legacy

Gooch had a 22-year career in public health. Before that, he spent 11 years in health care administration, medical equipment, and pharmacy infusion.

He has decided to retire from his position at the health department because he believes he is a “10-12 year leader.”

He has accomplished a lot with the JCHD team and the board of health as the executive director. Still, he believes he is “at a point in my life which was going to be difficult (to keep up that pace), and I felt like my time had come to turn the reins over to somebody that would be able to come in with greater fire and passion for continuing that work. “

Gooch also recently moved to Prospect, Kentucky, to be closer to his daughter, son-in-law and 21-month-old grandson.

He calls the birth of his grandson the most significant life event that sent him on a new journey. “I want that to be a big part of my life in his early years and be impactful for him and my family.”

The former director’s list of successes is long.

During his tenure at the JCHD, it became part of the first 12 percent of the country’s health departments to achieve national accreditation. The health department has also gone through two different iterations of web designs, making it much more user-friendly.

The JCHD also received safe-community accreditation due to its ability to “respond to causes of death and preventable injury issues that were taking away a lot of our useful life years (in Jessamine County) that could be lived, and a lot of those things were relative to drug overdoses and suicides and motor vehicle accidents, sudden infant death syndrome with kids and things of that nature that are preventable injuries, preventable deaths.”

The health department grew during Gooch’s tenure- from adding programs like Jessamine Trails to make nature and exercise more accessible to the community to start the syringe exchange program to performing community-wide health assessments to focus on what the county needs most.

The staff has grown, as well.

According to Gooch, in the last decade, health departments around the country have seen their workforce decline by 30, 40 and 50 percent.

“But we’ve been blessed with a supportive community, and we’ve been blessed in a way where we can increase our workforce by over 50 percent capacity to do that,” Gooch said. When he started at the JCHD, there were 26 employees. That number has now more than doubled.

Gooch and the JCHD team have faced many challenges- like the largest health event in the century.

“I feel like we responded very well to the needs of the community relative to that, and we were able to expand our operations to include disease investigation, contact tracing and testing for Covid and certainly mass vaccination for Covid,” Gooch said.

None of this, according to Gooch, could have been possible without “The great team that we have working there, and I don’t think that anybody would find more dedicated servants, more dedicated public health professionals, and servants than at the JCHD and certainly no more of a dedicated board than the one we have. We have a 12-member board of health. And I can honestly say that they’ve always been so very supportive of our work. I always give thanks to them and our team, and I continue to, for how they’ve impacted my career and my life.”

Gooch feels the board, the staff, and the community is blessed to have Ann Stevens fill his position.

“She has a lot of expertise in a multitude of areas, and I think the greatest thing is that the team there in Jessamine County already have great respect for her dependability and dedication,” Gooch said. “I think that she will do great work for the community as well, and with the team still in place, we have a lot of great personnel to continue that work that we’ve been doing for so long.”