CLEVELAND — After 33 years with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, and 18 years as Health Commissioner, Terry Allan plans to retire this spring.
In his place, Dr. Roderick Harris is set to take over. Harris currently serves as deputy director of the Allegheny County Health Department in Pittsburgh, but originally hails from Northeast Ohio.
“It [will] be great to be back and to serve in the community that I really love and that I’ve always called home no matter where I lived,” Harris told News 5. “My parents still live in the neighborhood and I still go there on a regular basis.”
Harris grew up in Cleveland’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood and previously worked in the Cuyahoga County Board of Health as an inspector in the late 90s.
It’s an expertise that Harris said will come in handy as the health department moves past two years of non-stop COVID-19 and works toward addressing other important goals including health equity in underserved communities.
“They are our customers and we need to make sure that we're delivering public health in a way that they can appreciate it and then [in a] way that they will actually access and receive it,” he said.
Another priority Harris brought up in our conversation was the need to address the wellbeing of staff at the health department.
“I know that the staff has really burned out. I know that all health departments are struggling with staff burnout and people seeking other employment opportunities because COVID-19 has taken a toll on many of us,” he said. “I want to make sure that we're healing them so that we're giving them some time to recuperate in case things do spike up again in the future. And then, let's think about what we can do to recruit and retain talented workforce at this time in the workforce at this point.”
As for the future of COVID-19 in the county, Harris steered clear from making any predictions.
“Right now, we should embrace that things are better,” he said. “We should celebrate the small wins that we have with the numbers being better, but understand that there are still some people who are disproportionately affected, and we need to make sure that there are resources and information that's getting to those populations and also understanding that we need to be prepared in case things pick back up.”
With 67% of the county population vaccinated, Harris said he does believe there's still room to improve.
"We have to understand, especially for some of the African American residents, there's a long legacy of distrust," he explained. "There's a long legacy of injustices that have happened with African Americans in this country when it comes down to medicine and health. So we have to give some time for us to heal from that and to be a little reluctant. But at the same time, we need to give them information that may help to change their minds a little bit more. I think as time goes by, maybe the comfort level will change."
Even though he currently lives in the heart of Steelers country, Harris told News 5 he’s still a Browns fan.
“I knew you were going to ask that,” he smiled.
Dr. Harris is set to take over as Health Commissioner on April 11