Dr. Karen Milman resigns as Sonoma County Health Officer

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Sonoma County’s health officer, Dr. Karen Milman, has stepped down from her job, marking the second high-profile shakeup in the county’s Department of Health Services in recent weeks.

Milman’s last day was Monday, a week after the departure of the county’s mental health and substance abuse services director, Michael Kennedy. Kennedy went on paid leave last week and county officials are seeking to fill his post with an interim director.

County officials would not elaborate on the circumstances of his job status, including whether the leave was ordered or voluntary, and whether he was set to return to work in a different post. Dr. Michael Kozart, the Health Services department’s medical director and lead psychiatrist, is filling the role on a temporary basis.

Milman, who on Wednesday was vacationing in Joshua Tree National Park, said she’d been thinking about leaving her post for “a long time, since before the October fires.”

“In thinking about my personal and professional values and priorities, I realized that continuing to work at DHS in this position was no longer a fit,” Milman said in an email.

But Milman said that even though she is no longer the county’s health officer, she will continue to be a strong proponent of public health and equity. She said local public health departments are extremely important and she continues to admire the work it does alongside its community partners such as clinics, hospitals, and nonprofit health and wellness organizations.

“We have done great things together and I’m sure the partnerships will continue to benefit the community,” Milman said.

She’s proud of her work during her almost four-year tenure, including piloting an Accountable Community of Health, a new, local approach to improving community health by linking the efforts of health care systems, government agencies, community organizations and the public, and winning the Local Health Department of the Year award from the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

She also participated in developing and implementing crucial countywide safe pain management guidelines aimed at addressing the opioid crisis; assisted designing systems to better manage emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola; developed a pilot program to monitor the Russian River for cyanobacteria toxins; and helped coordinate the medical health response to the fires, including addressing hazardous debris.

Milman notified the department of her decision to resign Feb. 5, said Christine Cramer, the county’s director of human resources.

Milman, whose role as health officer earned her an annual salary of $231,380, took the position in August 2014. Prior to taking the Sonoma County post, she served as the prevention division director of Public Health — Seattle & King County. Before that, she served as health officer of Nevada County from 2009-2012.

She obtained her medical degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University, where she also completed her residency.

As health officer, Milman was tasked with providing leadership for the protection of public health and enforcement of public health regulations. She also served as advisor to elected and appointed officials, members of the medical profession, and the public on matters affecting health and safety.

Several local health advocates said Milman’s dedication to public health went beyond the usual leadership role of responding to infectious outbreaks and health enforcement.

Lisa Wittke Schaffner, executive director of the John Jordan Foundation that funds collective health impact initiatives, said Milman changed her perception of what a public health officer is and does. Schaffner worked with Milman through the expansive countywide health care initiative known as Health Action, which Schaffner co-chairs.

“She was focused on the issues and work-around health but was also collaborative and wanted to be innovative in changing systems and what really affects the health of a community though the Health Action council,” Schaffner said.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she was disappointed to learn of Milman’s resignation. Zane called her “very knowledgeable” and touted the “great credentials” she brought to the county, citing her previous public health leadership roles in Seattle and Nevada County.

“I think she burned out, to a certain extent, with the fires,” Zane said. “I haven’t sat down and talked to her about it, in terms of the reasons, so I don’t want to speak for her. But I am disappointed to lose her.”

Zane directed questions about the specific circumstances surrounding Milman’s departure to county health department leaders.

Staff Writer J.D. Morris contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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