In the midst of one of the deadliest flu seasons in recent memory, Austin will soon make a decision on who will be the next person to helm its Public Health Department.
The community on Wednesday night will have a chance to weigh in on the two finalists for the job: the department’s interim director, Stephanie Hayden, and its medical director and health authority, Dr. Philip Huang.
The candidates will be available for questions from the public at a “town hall” style meeting at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center at 808 Nile St. in East Austin from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Austin’s assistant city manager, Sara Hensley, is expected to make a final recommendation to the city manager by March 1.
The next Public Health director will oversee a department with a $107.2 million annual budget and 483 employees. The department provides immunizations and health screenings, inspects and permits restaurants, and responds to public health emergencies.
The candidate search comes amid one of Travis County’s deadliest flu seasons in more than 10 years, when so far 39 people have died from the illness, according to Austin Public Health spokesperson Carole Barasch.
The majority of deaths are people older than 80, Barasch said.
The death toll is more than twice the number who died in 2014-15, which had been the county’s deadliest flu season when 17 people died from the illness, health officials said.
Public Health, in addition to tracking flu data, sends teams across Austin to provide education on good health practices and offers flu shots to city residents six months and older who don’t have insurance.
Hayden, who is a licensed master social worker, has served as the department’s interim director since Shannon W. Jones III retired in March. She has worked for the city for 17 years and previously was the assistant director at the Williamson County Mental Health Center and director of clinical services at the Austin school district’s Alternative Learning Center. She earned a master’s degree in social work from Our Lady of the Lake University Worden School of Social Services.
Huang, in addition to serving as the city’s health authority and medical director, also works as the assistant director for disease prevention and health promotion at the department. He has earned his medical degree from University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and has a master’s degree in public health from Harvard. He worked previously as chief of the Bureau of Chronic Disease and Tobacco Prevention at the Texas Department of State Health Services. Between that and his role at Austin Public Health, has more than 20 years of executive management experience.