With longtime Lewis County Public Health and Social Services director Danette York moving on, deputy director JP Anderson has been named to lead the department on an interim basis — a move county officials say will make for a seamless transition.
“I’m very pleased that he is acting (director), because he knows all the issues,” said county commissioner Edna Fund. “He has a lot of good experience and he knows our area, so I think it’s a good move for him to be in an acting position at this point.”
After nearly a decade leading the department, York has accepted a position in Butte County, California, which she will begin on July 1. She said Anderson is well-prepared to step into her role.
“JP will be a great interim director and potentially even a great director,” she said. “He’s a good leader and can take the reins, but we also have a good team.”
Fund said county leaders will give Anderson about two months to settle into the role, then evaluate if they want to remove his interim label or recruit for a new director.
“I’m just hoping to maintain the level of service we’ve been providing the community,” Anderson said. “There’s so many facets to what we do, just making sure I understand all of those things and all the staff get a chance to know me a little bit better.”
Anderson grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and his first job out of college was with Cascade Mental Health Care as the only mental health worker in the Lewis County Jail. After that, he spent four years as a child and adolescent case manager with Cascade, before earning his master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington, Tacoma. He then returned to Lewis County as a transition specialist at the jail. After a stint as the Drug Court manager, he took on the deputy director position at Public Health.
Over his career in social work — most of it in Lewis County — Anderson said he has learned the importance of building collaboration, a trait that will serve him well as he takes over the department.
“You want to see something change quickly — that’s why you go into this work,” he said. “You want to step in and make a big change. The longer you spend in this work, you learn patience and how to direct a process to get there with a lot of people on board and a lot of people understanding where you’re trying to go.”
With much of his background on the social services side, Anderson will need to adjust to leading the public health aspects of the department.
“It will be a learning curve for him, and he recognizes that,” York said. “He’s going to be able to spend a lot more time with the public health individuals to build that knowledge base.”
Another big challenge will be taking responsibility for the department’s budget.
“Our budgeting process, come this summer into the fall, is very complex,” Anderson said. “Just making sure that we continue to be successful in spending down those grants appropriately without overspending them. It’s really providing (county manager Erik Martin) and the county commissioners with a quality budget product to make sure we’re part of the overall county system in a way that is really transparent and clear in how we’re spending our money. That really is the piece right now that I’m most focused on.”
The biggest thing he learned from York, Anderson said, is to rely on the department’s leaders.
“Trust your subject matter experts,” he said. “Because we do so many things, whether it’s the Animal Shelter, septic systems, environmental health, all the social service programs we have up here — there are people leading those teams that are best suited for answering those project-specific questions.”
Martin said he has confidence in Anderson to handle the role, though no long-term decisions have been made yet about the position.
“We’re going to take some time to make some decisions,” he said. “I’ll be working closely with JP for a little while. I don’t expect it to be too long before we decide what direction we’re going. I think JP’s very capable. As we think about transition and what decisions we want to make going forward, JP can step in and do a good job.”
Anderson said he would be more than willing to accept the role full-time, if the county decided to move in that direction.
“Absolutely, yeah, I would be,” he said. “Incredible things are going to happen in Lewis County over what will essentially be the extent of my career, the next 30 years or so. I can see it. … It’s really exciting to consider being part of that in a long-term way. Whatever capacity that is, I’m looking forward to doing that, and I can’t think of a better one than doing it here in Public Health long-term.”