Local Retired Doctor Hired as Lewis County Health Officer

Former Pediatrician Dr. Joseph Wiley Chosen After Previously-Fired Doctors Also Apply


Lewis County has a new health officer in retired pediatrician Dr. Joseph Wiley.

The county Board of Health, which is composed of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), held a special meeting on May 24 to interview applicants to the position.

Drs. Steven Krager and Alan Melnick, who work jointly as health officers for several other Southwest Washington counties, were fired by the BOCC earlier this year.

“When we hired Dr. Melnick and Krager we hired (them) as a regional health officer and I objected to it, in part, because I wanted to find a local health officer, that was the intent,” Commissioner Sean Swope said. “Early on, I was told health officers don't grow on trees they are hard to come by.”

Swope was the one to kick off discussion of terminating the duo’s contract in March. Both he and Commissioner Lee Grose eventually voted for ending the contract, citing hopes of getting someone local in the position.

Krager and Melnick re-applied for the open position as a package deal even after those events transpired. Another applicant, Dr. Michael Strohbach withdrew his name from the hat before the BOCC interview process, leaving Wiley as the only candidate for the position who had not been fired from it previously.

Swope said he thought Wiley and Strohbach knew each other and had discussed it and decided Wiley was best suited for the job, and suggested Strohbach may be willing to assist Wiley occasionally.

Wiley could not be reached by The Chronicle for comment, but receptionists with Providence Centralia Hospital and Northwest Pediatrics Center confirmed he used to work at Northwest Pediatrics and recently retired. He also occasionally delivers babies at Providence Centralia.

The draft request for applications for the position was put together first by the Lewis County Public Health & Social Services (LCPHSS) Advisory Board.

When it was being reviewed by the BOCC, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock mentioned she would like one of the qualifications to be a knowledge of zoonotic diseases — diseases transmitted between humans and animals.

“And population medicine, which is very different from individual medicine which is what most physicians are trained in and practice daily,” Pollock told The Chronicle this week.

Asked her feelings on working with someone without the public health background she hoped for, she said she was hopeful Wiley would pursue the training needed for the position.

LCPHSS Advisory Board Chair Jami Lund was not aware of the board’s choice for the health officer position as of Wednesday night, as Wiley’s contract with the county had not yet been finalized.

Before interviews with the Board of Health, all candidates were first reviewed by the advisory board, which advised the re-hiring of Melnick and Krager after the team scored the highest on a rubric. The other two applicants were local physicians, meeting the desire of Swope and Grose.

However, the advisory board’s letter considered Krager and Melnick’s experience in Lewis County as time invested into understanding the community alongside their background as public health officials.

It also noted that training the other two applicants for the technical aspects of the job would be time-consuming, even if they already had established relationships within the community. The letter noted that, ultimately, the job prioritizing the different qualifications falls to the Board of Health.

“I have 100 emails from people that know Dr. Wiley,” Swope said. “One of the things that really resonated with me with him was he just really wants to serve our community. … People have trust in him.”