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County still seeking health chief

New candidates are being considered as supervisors' aides say the

July 09, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Los Angeles County has lacked permanent leadership for its extensive network of public hospitals and clinics for more than a year, and that appears unlikely to change any time soon.

A lengthy search for a new Department of Health Services head resulted in a single finalist -- Bob Sillen, former leader of the state prison healthcare system -- but county supervisors have rejected him, aides to two supervisors said this week.

Sillen arrived in Los Angeles last week for his final interviews backed by William T Fujioka, the county's chief executive. But supervisors failed to vote on his candidacy during a closed-door discussion of the position and no future vote is scheduled.

"He was never formally submitted to the board as a candidate," said Sharon Harper, a Fujioka deputy. "That still gives us the flexibility to continue the search and that is what we are choosing to do in this case."

Fujioka, who is vacationing in China, said in a brief e-mail that a number of alternate candidates are now being considered for the job.

David Sommers, spokesman for Supervisor Don Knabe, said "this is one of the most important public health positions in the country and it's necessary and relevant for the board to make sure we have the right person for the job."

The person chosen to run the department will manage a $3.4-billion annual budget and earn a $300,000 salary. John Schunhoff has held the position on an interim basis since the abrupt departure of Dr. Bruce Chernof in April 2008.

Schunhoff, 62, has made it clear that he has no intention of holding the job permanently and hopes to be in the role a short time.

Chernof's predecessor, Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, has said publicly that he believes politics has been a significant factor in hurting the county's ability to attract talent. Most major metropolitan public health systems now operate under independent health authorities, but the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has refused to relinquish direct control.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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