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COVID-19

Austin Public Health To Get New Leadership As COVID Pandemic Continues

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health's then-interim medical director, announces the cancellation of SXSW at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health's then-interim medical director, announces the cancellation of SXSW at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

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Austin will soon have new public health leadership as it continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Two leaders who have helped guide the city through the pandemic so far — interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott and Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard — are moving into new roles with the city.

Dr. Desmar Walkes has been named the new medical director and health authority. This role is responsible for overseeing Austin Public Health’s medical services. She previously served as the health authority for Bastrop County and has been the point person for the county’s pandemic response and vaccine distribution.

“I’m honored to be joining the Austin Public Health team and look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead as the next Medical Director and Health Authority for the City of Austin and Travis County,” Walkes said in a press release.
She’ll begin the job May 31.

Escott had been serving as interim health authority since October 2019. He’ll be transitioning to his new role as the city’s chief medical officer.

"I’ve come to know Dr. Desmar Walkes over the past year, since she has been the health authority for Bastrop,” Escott said during a new conference Friday. “We’ve collaborated on a number of issues over the year, and I‘ve been very impressed with her capabilities, with her passion and her drive. I think we’ll be well served by her.”

APH Director Hayden-Howard has been promoted to an assistant city manager role. She’ll be overseeing health and culture, including the following departments: Parks and Recreation, Austin Resource Recovery, Austin Public Library, Austin Public Health and Animal Services.

Hayden-Howard said people shouldn’t be concerned about the leadership changes, since both she and Escott will still be working at the city and helping with the transitions.

“Being able to have other individuals come into this space that have experience, that have done very well in their career paths, is definitely a benefit to the City of Austin,” Hayden-Howard said. “As we continue to transition I will continue to be around. Health is one of the areas that I will oversee, so I will definitely continue to be involved with things that are going on as we start to transition.”

Hayden-Howard begins her new role Monday. APH’s Assistant Director Adrienne Sturrup will serve in an interim role as the city searches for a new director.

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