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Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health elects Jani Hitchen as Chair, Joe Bushnell Vice Chair

At the June 5 Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health meeting, members voted for Jani Hitchen to succeed Catherine Ushka as Board Chair and Joe Bushnell to serve as Vice Chair. Ushka served on the Board of Health since 2018 and was elected Chair from 2019-2020 and again in 2023. She passed away last month.

Director of Public Health Chantell Harmon Reed and Board members took time at the start of the meeting to reflect on Ushka’s tireless work in our community. She served as Board Chair, Tacoma City Councilmember, and president of the National Association of Local Boards of Health.

“Chair Ushka committed to making sure we heard her commitment to health equity and racial justice, for all” Reed said. “She was a public health advocate locally and nationally. I want to make sure that we carry her legacy forward in all we do.”

Several members of the Board spoke about Ushka’s leadership and commitment to public health before the Board shared a moment of silence and took a recess.

When the Board returned for business, Board member Marty Campbell introduced a motion to vote for a new Chair and nominated Hitchen along with Bushnell for Vice Chair. The Board voted unanimously for both appointments.

“Jani Hitchen is dedicated to protecting our community, through her work on the Board of Health and County Council,” Reed said. “She is a strong advocate for public health who will continue to prioritize all of the work we do to help keep everyone safe in Tacoma and Pierce County.”

Hitchen joined the Board as an alternate in 2021 and returned as a regular member in 2023. Board members elected her to serve as Vice Chair in January 2023 alongside Ushka. She is a Pierce County Councilmember and longtime Parkland resident. On the Pierce County Council, she is Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, and a member of other Council standing committees, including Public Safety and Economic and Infrastructure Development. She is also a member of the Washington State Public Health Advisory Board.

“I must begin with gratitude to our former Chair, Catherine Ushka,” said Hitchen. “I truly believe that her leadership has built a foundation that I will continue to grow as we recover from COVID, address the opioid epidemic, and work to improve the health of all those that call Pierce County home.”

Bushnell will replace Hitchen as Vice Chair. He is a Tacoma City Councilmember and lives in the South End of Tacoma. He joined the Board as an alternate in 2021. On the City of Tacoma Council, he is the Vice Chair of the Government, Performance and Finance Committee and serves on the Economic Development Committee.

“The impact that former Chair Ushka had on public health in Pierce County has been tremendous and I share the commitment she had to building happy, healthy communities,” said Bushnell. “As an alternate on the Board of Health, and previously as a volunteer on Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Food Advisory Board, I have seen firsthand how impactful public health can be on people’s lives and, in particular, on our most vulnerable community members. I look forward to serving in this new leadership capacity.”

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is an independent government agency with an appointed policymaking body. The Board of Health meets every month on the first and third Wednesday.

Pierce County Council appoints 3 regular members. Tacoma City Council appoints 1 regular member. Both the Pierce County Executive and the Tacoma Mayor serve on the Board of Health and may delegate the position if desired. Board members serve two-year terms. Pierce County Cities and Towns Association appoints a regular member and Pierce County Medical Society appoints a regular member.

Board of Health Chair Jani Hitchen and Vice Chair Joe Bushnell.
Board of Health Chair Jani Hitchen and Vice Chair Joe Bushnell.

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 six 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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