Top Orange County Public Health Official in Charge of Covid-19 Testing Effort Abruptly Resigns and Retires

Screenshot of County of Orange video, via Facebook

David Souleles, Orange County's director of public health services, speaks at an online press conference about COVID-19 on March 30, 2020.

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A day after announcing the rollout of Orange County’s ambitious new Covid-19 testing regime for the entire county, Deputy Health Care Agency Director David Souleles abruptly announced his resignation and retirement.

Souleles was the health care agency expert that county officials pointed to as the person that had designed and would oversee a countywide testing ramp up program that would ensure Orange County residents the ability to get a Covid-19 test whenever they want one.

This is the same testing program that business leaders are desperately depending on in order to be able to open up the local economy.

Instead, Souleles announced on Wednesday morning that he was leaving to spend more time with family.

“I have made the decision to resign from my position with the OC Health Care Agency and retire from government service after more than 16 years with the County of Orange and nearly 32 years of professional experience working in public health, effective May 2, 2020,” Souleles wrote in an email to the county Public Health staff.

Souleles wrote that his last day in the office would be Friday, May 1st.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time with family in the weeks and months ahead,” he wrote.

Souleles is the second high ranking Health Care Agency executive to abruptly leave the agency as Health Care Agency Director Richard Sanchez in March left HCA to take over as CEO of the county health insurance plan for the poor and elderly, called CalOptima.

While a former HCA executive Bob Wilson was brought out of retirement to succeed Sanchez, some assumed Souleles might eventually take over as head of HCA.

Instead, county officials are conducting interviews for Sanchez’s replacement and a decision on a new director is expected soon.

In his farewell email, Souleles touted the work of his staff, noting “this institution is bigger than any one of us.”

Souleles told staffers that “It has been a pleasure and an honor serving with each and every one of you. Together as a team we have done great work to protect and improve the health of our community. You are truly an exceptional team of dedicated public health professionals and our neighbors are better off for the work that you do.

As the HCA makes plans for ongoing leadership in Public Health Services, please know that this institution is bigger than any one of us and you all will continue to do the good work that you do day in and day out on behalf of the people of Orange County.”

Orange County CEO Frank Kim acknowledged it was tough when a key executive like Souleles leaves abruptly in the midst of a crisis but stressed that the nearly 3,000 workers at the Health Care Agency would continue to do their work effectively.

In addition to touting Souleles’ work on creating the Covid-19 testing network, Kim also credited his efforts to expand the county health care agency’s website that releases data about Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths – something the county did not do well at the start of the pandemic but has become much better about.

“I think he’s done an incredible job during the middle of a crisis,” Kim said of Souleles. “He’s put in so much time for the community….I couldn’t be more thankful for the dedication he’s shown and the work he’s done for Orange County residents.”

In short, public sector executives who have worked long careers and have good retirement packages, well they retire.

Despite the odd combination of departures for Sanchez and now Souleles, Kim insists the Health Care Agency has the talent to meet the current challenge, saying he had full confidence in Assistant Director Lilly Simmering and Public Health Officer Dr. Nicole Quick, pointing out that both have been effective not only as administrators but as communicators.

“We have a deep bench within our public health department and the staff are ready to shoulder the responsibility that we will ask them to take on while we recruit for a public health director.”