NEWPORT — During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners announced the hire of Jayne Romero as director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Her hiring returns the department to its previous structure with a single director after two years with co-directors, both of whom retired in recent months. Rebecca Austen, health department director, retired in April, and Rebecca McBee-Wilson, who headed the federally qualified health center, retired in June.
Romero was one of two finalists to interview with commissioners May 12 after screening interviews with various stakeholders. The board voted following an executive session May 17 to move forward with hiring Romero.
“I totally recognize the trust that you’re placing in me,” Romero told the board Tuesday. “I can assure you, I won’t let you down.”
Board Chair Doug Hunt said, “I think we’re really fortunate to have you as a member of the team, with more than 25 years of experience in health and human services, a strong background in mental health — of course, behavioral health continues to be an area of great need in our county — and I certainly look forward to your visioning and planning and moving the county forward.”
Commissioner Kaety Jacobson said she seconded Hunt’s sentiments and welcomed Romero to the team.
According to a county press release, Romero worked in human services in Venango County, in western Pennsylvania, from 1998 through 2017. In 2004, she was named mental health and developmental services administrator for Venango County.
She was again promoted in 2013, becoming human services administrator, and served in that role until 2018, when she moved to Lincoln County with her husband, Charles, a psychiatrist with Samaritan Health in Newport.
Romero holds a Master of Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Science from the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
“I think from a young age, I always felt that I needed to make a living in a capacity that allowed me to be of service to others,” Romero said in the press release.
She and her husband are avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, and she said they feel well suited to their surroundings. “We like exploring the Lincoln County coast and are particularly excited whenever we discover a new place,” Romero said. “We’re just really happy we moved here.”
The new director will oversee the department’s transition in its approach to COVID-19 vaccinations from larger regional hub clinics to mobile clinics that come to workplaces and other organizational gathering spots.
Romero told commissioners during her interview, “The pandemic has to take the priority. My feeling is that all hands are going to have to be on deck until we really are able to move beyond that.” She also stressed the need to address staff trauma following a year of public health emergency.
The new director said she is still getting acquainted with department personnel. Health and human services has the most staff of any county department, and it recently added four other new hires. Creta Frandsen was hired as a community health nurse, Victoria Naipavle-Heiduschke and Skyler Campa were hired as COVID response workers, and Athena Moncure was hired as service coordinator.
Romero directly supervises Florence Pourtal, acting health department director and deputy director of public health. A new health center director, who the county board will hire in consultation with the Lincoln Community Health Council, will also report directly to Romero.