The County will lose a long-serving department head after the County Health Agency director turned in his retirement papers effective next April.
Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm, decided to call it a career after a closed session meeting by the Board of Supervisors on Monday, Nov. 27. County Administrative Officer, Wade Horton, announced Hamm’s resignation in a news release Nov. 28.
“It has been my great honor to serve the people of San Luis Obispo County for 36 years and lead the Health Agency for 11 years,” Hamm said in a statement, “but I’m looking forward to retirement and the next phase of my life. Our community is facing a growing number of health care system challenges and I agree with the Board that the Health Agency needs a fresh perspective to address them.”
Hamm has been under fire for most of this past year after last January’s in-custody death of Andrew Holland, 36 of Atascadero, a mentally ill man who was originally jailed in 2015 on a relatively minor charge but remained in custody after allegedly assaulting a guard.
A judge ordered Holland be transferred to the County Mental Health Facility last Jan. 20, but that 16-bed facility, which was overseen by Hamm, didn’t immediately have room for him.
Another incident with a guard led to Holland being strapped in a so-called “restraint chair” where he remained for nearly two days. When finally released from the chair, Holland suffered an aneurysm and died.
Holland’s Family settled a claim with the County for $5 million and got the County to agree to make numerous changes in its procedures and policies at the County Jail for dealing with the mentally ill. Among those was the destruction of the restraint chair the use of which led to Holland’s death.
Holland’s death was the 11th at the County Jail (a 12th man died last week of apparent natural causes) that have occurred since January 2011, when Sheriff Ian Parkinson was first elected. The FBI is investigating the deaths.
The case laid bare the inadequacies of the County’s mental health system, especially with regards to those under arrest.
Hamm agreed to stay on the job until April 7 when Horton believes they’ll have someone in place to take over. “We can’t thank Mr. Hamm enough for his decades of public service, his significant contributions as Health Agency Director over the past 11 years, and for graciously agreeing to stay on through April during the recruitment process,” said CAO Horton.
The County will open a nationwide search for a new health director “who can continue addressing our community’s challenging health system problems and concerns, including the mental health treatment of County jail inmates, the growing statewide mental health crisis and its effects on our community, and upcoming changes to the County’s animal shelter and services,” the County said in a news release.
As part of his separation agreement, Supervisors agreed to pay Hamm 6 months’ salary — about $102,600 — as well as his accumulated vacation and sick leave, calculated per County Code, on or before next April 30.
Hamm has worked in government for more than 36 years. He started at SLO County in 1981 and worked for 4 years as an environmental specialist. He become an emergency services coordinator in the Office of Emergency Services, and then became principal administrative analyst in the County Administrative Office under the CAO.
After 10 years in that role, Hamm became the deputy director at the Health Agency before moving on to work for the Superior Court as assistant court executive officer. He was then hired as the Health Agency director in 2006.
By Neil Farrell