Phil Bondurant hired as County’s Health Department deputy director
The new deputy director of the Summit County Health Department was almost a dentist.
Phil Bondurant only entered the field of public health “by chance” when he answered an ad after college.
“I had no idea what the health department did, they just put out an ad when I was living in Vegas for individuals who want to work in that line of work and have a bachelor’s of science (degree),” Bondurant said.
He was hired under a federal West Nile virus grant, and after “a little bit of training,” Bondurant was sent out into the field.
“They gave me a truck, a mosquito backpack, a dipper and said, ‘This is your area,’” he said. He dove into the work, which included overnight trips to the mountains surrounding Las Vegas and Clark County, Nevada, where he would hunt for diseases by testing mosquitoes and trapping rodents and testing their blood on site. He was looking for pathogens westerners might associate with “third-world countries,” like West Nile virus, rabies, hantavirus and the plague.
“I realized the reason we don’t have a problem (here) is that there are people behind the scenes that are doing work to keep it in control,” Bondurant said. “It didn’t take long to realize this is what I wanted to do.”
So he made it his career, earning master’s and doctorate degrees over the years, and working for health departments for 15 years. For the last five, he’s been with Summit County, most recently as its environmental health director. Starting June 18, he was promoted to the role of the department’s deputy director, replacing Brent Ovard, who retired after 27 years with the county. The salary range for the position is $84,268.31 to $118,112.89, plus benefits, according to the job posting.
As Bondurant has risen through the ranks, his responsibilities have become increasingly administrative and less about jumping in a pickup truck and heading to the mountains to hunt out disease. While he looks back fondly on those days, he finds his new role rewarding when he can help the department’s staff find successes in their own right.
Bondurant describes the deputy director position as largely a logistical one that handles the majority of day-to-day operations, while occasionally representing the department’s interests on important issues that come before the county.
One of the biggest projects he predicts will take up a lot of his attention is the upcoming switch in providers for the county’s mental health services, with the changeover to University of Utah Health Plans scheduled for Sept. 1. Another large project is developing a program to protect drinking water sources, something that Bondurant said is a priority of the County Council and County Manager Tom Fisher. He thinks the project will be “much more difficult” than it might appear, because he’ll have to start the program from scratch.
In his previous role as the environmental health director, Bondurant was in charge of what he called the regulatory arm of public health, making sure permit-holders like restaurants or water parks complied with regulations.
He oversaw everything from tattoo parlors to individual wastewater systems to ensure “the environment is safe and not increasing the chance of injury or illness through (human) interaction with it.”
He said he’s most proud of the way trust increased between the department and those it was tasked with regulating.
“When you come in twice a year and do a food inspection and they tolerate your presence, it’s one thing,” Bondurant said. “It’s another thing when they’re calling ahead because of something, (saying) ‘We need your help, we’re doing this, what do you need from us?’”
In his new role, Bondurant says his goal is to increase the “resiliency” of the department.
“With anything, change is imminent,” he said, citing the possibility of another Olympics bid and the ever-increasing workload being placed on the department.
To deal with that change, Bondurant said it’s important the department’s staff feels empowered to make decisions and know leadership will have their back.
“If a mistake is made, we learn from our mistakes and move forward instead of feeling like you can’t make a mistake and can’t make a decision,” he said.
That dovetails with what Bondurant said is the best part of his job, identifying the strengths of staff members and putting them in a position to succeed.
“When the light comes on for them and they’ve done something that benefits others, that’s very rewarding,” he said.
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