NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Phillip Tarte, the director of the New Hanover County Health Department, is no longer employed with the agency, a county spokesperson confirmed Friday. The county’s website lists David Howard — previously Tarte’s deputy — as interim health director.
Commissioner Rob Zapple said Friday that County Manager Chris Coudriet told commissioners Tarte is no longer employed by New Hanover County.
Tarte was hired in 2016 to lead an agency with 120 employees and a budget of nearly $11.6 million, according to a report at the time by StarNews Media. His starting salary was $130,000. Tarte is from Whiteville and worked as health director of Union County prior to coming to New Hanover.
Interim director Howard was the Bladen County Health and Human Services director prior to joining New Hanover County’s team.
Under Tarte, the public health department consistently emphasized its role as an advisory body to institutions and others who sought guidance on best practices. His office has not issued civil penalties to businesses regarding violations of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders, and has worked alongside the school system and UNCW to coordinate safety measures amid the pandemic.
Tarte and public health official pushed eagerly for restrictions on smoking and vaping in certain spaces, which was codified into a county ordinance in November, and set to take effect Feb. 1.
In 2019 New Hanover County merged its social services department with the board of health, which more than 30 counties had done at the time. After the consolidation, a new health and human services board emerged to replace the two pre-existing boards. A new health and human services building opened in February 2020.
Zapple said the 2019 health consolidation, while challenging, gave the county more authority to take initiative in the current moment to meet the challenges of the pandemic — by organizing community vaccine events, like the one at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church that offered shots to more than 400 people.
The consolidated health apparatus in the county has more control than it previously did because the former board of health was tied to the North Carolina government, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services, Zapple said.
New Hanover County Public Health has vaccinated over 10,000 people since inoculations began a few days before Christmas. Shipments of vaccine arrive weekly at health departments and hospitals, and the county shares some of its stock with local providers, like NHRMC, Wilmington Health, Med North and Cape Fear Clinic. Vaccination stations exist at public health headquarters and the Senior Resource Center in Wilmington.
Further details surrounding Tarte’s absence are still unclear.
Resignation on health and human services board
A four-year member of the county’s health and human services board recently quit. Amy McLane stepped away from the board Jan 27, writing in her resignation letter that the county health staff’s professionalism and dedication deeply impressed her.
According to the county’s website, the board serves as the policy-making, rule-making, and administrative board of the consolidated human services agency.
Relative to Tarte’s absence, the county spokesperson said she “believe[s] it is just coincidence that those occurred around the same time.”
In the letter to the chairwoman of the board, and carbon copied to the clerk for the county commissioners, McLane commended how the department tackled the response to GenX and other water pollutants, though personal considerations and frustrations with the office contributed to her resignation, she wrote.
She claimed decision-making behind consolidating the two departments was conducted in a “non-transparent manner,” and that for nine months following the merger, the board was tied up in red tape from combining all the existing rules.
Since then, “three commissioners have been rotated through the board, which has hindered our ability to develop a cohesive direction or strategy.”
“Finally, I was disturbed by the WHQR News report yesterday that County Commission was offered and received a ‘special’ Covid-19 vaccination, even though three of the Commissioners were not apparently eligible under current guidelines,” McLane wrote in her resignation. “At a time when even the Governor and the State DHHS director have not asked to be vaccinated, the message that this sends is terrible, in my opinion.”
The group now eligible for vaccines under the state’s plan are healthcare workers and all people ages 65 and older. The next group will add essential and frontline workers, but there’s no timeline for making the switch.
New Hanover County Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko said Thursday the state allotted a 300-dose minimum of vaccines — a lower number than doses received in past weeks — as a baseline to New Hanover County starting next week. Public health in New Hanover County only conducted second-dose shots this week.
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