Health Director Rich Bullough, at center of county’s pandemic response, announces he will retire this summer
Position has been ‘a remarkable honor’
Rich Bullough, Summit County’s health director and the public official at the center of the county’s pandemic response, has announced he will retire from the Health Department’s top post in August.
“This has been a remarkable honor for me,” Bullough told the Board of Health on Monday. “I’ve been in public health almost 30 years. By far the biggest honor that I’ve had has been in this job and serving this community and, importantly, being part of this team.”
Bullough has served as director since 2010 and told the board he twice delayed his retirement.
“I was not going to leave in the middle of this thing,” Bullough said, referring to the pandemic. “I was going to wait until we got to a place that I thought we’d made the progress I thought we needed to make. That time is now.”
Bullough became the public face of Summit County’s pandemic response in its early days, fielding questions, briefing the Board of Health and other officials and attempting to educate the community about the outbreak.
He has received support from many community members, including being named the Park City Rotary club’s Citizen of the Year in 2020, but not all of the feedback has been positive, especially from those who view the county’s public health measures as disproportionate responses to the pandemic.
As the county’s public health officer, Bullough had broad authority to enact sweeping measures to protect the community from the pandemic, including closing businesses and ordering mass quarantines.
Under Bullough’s leadership, Summit County was more aggressive earlier than other areas of the state in adopting public health measures like mandating mask wearing and issuing a stay-at-home order.
He worked in conjunction with County Manager Tom Fisher and the Summit County Council, and there was little public discord among officials in issuing health orders, which often bore the signatures of all three authorities.
But Bullough was sometimes singled out by members of the public for his role in managing the county’s response.
In October, a small group of protesters visited his home to oppose the mask mandate, and earlier this year, public commenters at a County Council meeting impugned his expertise and credentials.
The Health Department during Bullough’s tenure went from 22 employees and a $4.3 million budget in 2010 to 32 employees and a budget of around $6.9 million in 2021, according to a Summit County budget official. That reflects expansions to mental health programming and other areas in recent years.
The County Council has identified mental health as a top priority and the county overhauled its programming and switched behavioral health providers last year.
The Health Department has a wide array of responsibilities, including air quality, restaurant safety and business cleanliness. Bullough called the department’s mission a core component of society, and used his retirement announcement to advocate for the importance of equity in public health. He has publicly spoken about health disparities in the community, though closing those gaps remains challenging.
“What public health does is all about equity,” Bullough said. “We don’t discern for whom we provide safe water, clean air, healthy foods, clean foods, safe foods, all of the services that we provide. And if there’s one thing that’s been laid bare by this pandemic, it’s a lack of resiliency in our society and a lack of equity. … COVID has been all-consuming, but we’ve got in front of us an opportunity to redefine who we are, and to identify new opportunities, identify places we need to strengthen and maybe places we need to refocus, and that needs to be a community effort.”
Bullough said he will step down in August. A county spokesperson said the Board of Health would consider a succession plan for the position in coming weeks.
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