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Statement from Chantell Harmon Reed, Director of Public Health, on passing of Board of Health Chair Catherine Ushka

We are greatly saddened to learn that our Board of Health Chair, Catherine Ushka, has passed away. In only a short time under her Board leadership, her legacy is clear.

She was tirelessly committed to the Department’s mission of protecting and improving our community, especially in health equity and racial justice. Her legacy will continue to influence our Health Department for years to come.

Catherine joined our Board of Health in 2018 and was elected our Vice Chair in the same year. In 2019-2020 she was our Board of Health Chair and again from 2023 until her passing.

She was a public health advocate locally and nationally. She has long been an ardent advocate for equity and health even before she was elected to City Council. She served 8 years on Tacoma Public School’s Board of Directors, including 3 as president.

She was the president of the National Association of Local Boards of Health and served during two appointments to the Association of Washington Cities Legislative Committee. She was also the City Council’s representative to the National League of Cities. She was a U.S. Navy veteran deeply committed to public health and public service.

She was our Board Chair during some of our most challenging years for the Department and the community. She led us through the COVID-19 pandemic response and during the years of social unrest and racial reckoning in the wake of the George Floyd and Manuel Ellis killings.

She led the Board in declaring racism as a public health crisis, and even through bouts of personal illness, was unrelenting in her expectation that we make good on this commitment and serve our community compassionately and effectively.

Central to this commitment was her vision to bring me here to lead Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department as the Director of Public Health. She knew what she wanted in my role, and throughout my hiring process and during my two months at the Department, we had regular conversations where she continued to share her vision for closing health disparity gaps and delivering on our commitment to racial equity.

She also cared deeply about our staff. She often spoke about making sure those on the front lines of working so hard to protect and improve community health had the support of our Board of Health, and of Department leadership. Catherine believed everyone deserved to be healthy and live resiliently. And she advocated for this belief until the very end of her life. Her legacy will carry on in our work every day. All of us at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will miss her very much.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs, and treatment to protect public health. We are one of roughly 394 accredited health departments in the country and among five in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at tpchd.org.

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