EVERETT — Dr. Gary Goldbaum, who has led the Snohomish Health District for nearly a decade, will retire in March.
Goldbaum said he was announcing his decision now so the public health agency will have time to find a replacement and plan the transition.
The announcement of his departure comes as the health district faces significant budget issues that could result in more layoffs next year. And there are continuing questions over whether it should remain as an independent government agency or be merged into county government.
Goldbaum, 64, said he had been talking with his family about when it would make sense to retire. He said he was leaving the health district to spend more time with his wife and family.
It’s also clear that a series of budget cuts and layoffs, which have occurred five times since 2008, have taken a toll. “That has worn me down,” he said.
“We have lost more than one-third of our staff since 2009,” Goldbaum said. The agency now has the equivalent of about 146 full-time employees. “You cannot do more with less,” he said. “We can do less with less. That’s where we are today.”
Goldbaum said he’s concerned that if the health district has to make more cuts for next year’s budget, they could come in areas “where it will hurt the public’s health.”
The health district is still working on its 2017 budget. One proposal calls for dipping into its $4.2 million reserve fund.
That could avoid layoffs, but it also could hamper the district’s ability to respond to emergencies, Goldbaum said. As one example, if there’s a case of someone having drug-resistant tuberculosis, sometimes the patient needs to be isolated for more than year to keep others from being exposed. The cost of paying for housing, food and treatment can hit $100,000 a year, he said.
The reserve fund also is used to help the health district pay its staff and its bills if either the state or federal government, which provides some funds to the health district, can’t reach a budget agreement, he said.
The health district is asking cities in Snohomish County for a $2 per person contribution to its budget. The cities now pay nothing. So far, Everett, Lake Stevens and Snohomish have agreed to contribute, which would bring in about $290,000 next year.
The health district’s 15-member board of city and county council members will make the final decision on next year’s budget. But without more money, or drawing down its reserves, the health district could lose the equivalent of 18 full-time positions next year, according to a budget analysis.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, serving a population of about 845,000, has about 220 employees, said Heather Thomas, a health district spokeswoman. That compares to the health district’s 146 employees, serving a population of about 773,000.
Goldbaum, a graduate of Reed College in Portland, earned his medical degree at the University of Colorado in 1978. He worked as a solo family doctor in Vermont before joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as a medical epidemiologist in 1984.
He was hired by Public Health — Seattle &King County in 1989, where he worked on the AIDS Prevention Project. He joined the Snohomish Health District in February 2007.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; email@example.com.