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Chantell Harmon Reed will lead Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department as next director of public health

Reed is first African American woman to lead the agency

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department makes local history with the appointment of the first African American woman in its top position.

Chantell Harmon Reed, a doctoral candidate in public health at Tulane University, will become the director of public health at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Pending confirmation from the Pierce County and City of Tacoma councils Feb. 27, Reed will begin her new role on March 18.

 “I’m thrilled to be stepping into this role,” said Reed. “This community and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department are already doing great things. Together, we’ll lean into data-driven approaches to leverage those existing strengths and bring renewed energy to best serve the public health needs of the people of Pierce County. I have a lot to work with, and I’m excited about it.”

Reed was most recently the deputy director of the Public Health Division for the Multnomah County Health Department in Oregon where she focused on COVID-19 recovery efforts, infrastructure improvement, and achieving accreditation for the health department.

Before joining Multnomah County, she was the deputy director for the New Orleans Health Department where she led administration, including human resources, communications, strategic partnerships, and safety net programming. Her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic was instrumental in organizing testing efforts and vaccination campaigns, contributing to New Orleans’ high vaccination rates. Reed has helped to close healthcare disparity gaps through efforts to improve maternal and infant mortality rates and create a doula workforce development program.

Committee searched nationwide for new public health leader

The Board of Health recruitment committee, under the leadership of Board of Health Chair Catherine Ushka, led the recruitment process for the director of public health. Health Department staff and a community member panel heard from top candidates in an interview forum on Jan. 18. The County Executive and Tacoma Mayor interviewed 3 finalists for director of public health on Feb. 2 and made their appointment decision the following week.

The County Council and City Council must confirm the appointment, as outlined in the interlocal agreement governing the Health Department. Karras Consulting was the executive recruitment firm.

“Chantell Harmon Reed is the visionary and compassionate leader that we need at this critical juncture,” said Board of Health Chair Catherine Ushka. “Attracting top public health minds from across the nation, our diverse candidate pool proved exceptional. Chantell Harmon Reed’s expertise in community-led approaches and unwavering commitment to equity solidified her as the standout candidate. This heralds a new era of progress for our community’s health.”

33 people applied for the position. Of these, the executive recruiter narrowed the pool to 14 for interviews with the executive recruiter. From this process 3 candidates advanced to the staff and community interviews. Of the total candidate pool:

  • 55 percent (18) of candidates were from out of state; 39 percent (13) were in state; and 6 percent (2) were international.
  • 55 percent were Black, Indigenous or People of Color.
  • 58 percent were male; 42 percent were female.

Preparing for our public health future

The Board voted to split the Director of Health role into two positions on Sept. 6. The two roles will allow for the unique strengths and skill sets necessary to operate an innovative local health jurisdiction. Administrators serve as the executive and strategic leaders of health jurisdictions while state statute sets the requirements of the health officer role, which includes being licensed to practice medicine in Washington state.

“I’m delighted to welcome Chantell Harmon Reed to Pierce County,” said Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County Executive. “In her we have a dynamic, proven leader in delivering results in local public health. I look forward to hearing her fresh perspective and relevant experiences that come from having served communities across the U.S.”

Reed’s commitment to community service is reflected in her involvement in numerous committees and boards, including the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute, the Loyola Center for Counseling and Education and the Oregon Public Health Association.

“I want to thank the search committee and the leadership of Board Chair Ushka in designing a transparent and thorough executive search process. It has taken some time, and the candidate we selected was worth the wait,” said Mayor Victoria Woodards. “Chantell Harmon Reed has a proven ability to lead transformative change with an internal and external focus, and I am excited to work with and support her as she leads the Health Department.” 

In addition to pursuing her doctorate, Reed has a bachelor’s in business from Northwood University in Cedar Hill, Texas, and a master’s in healthcare management from the University of New Orleans.

One of Reed’s first job responsibilities will be to complete the final steps to select the next Health Officer for the Health Department.

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