In a week full of surprises, add another. On Wednesday morning, the head of the Department of Health suddenly announced her retirement, sending ripples through the Capitol.
Dr. Mary Currier, who has served as state health officer since 2010, will retire, effective Nov. 1. She has spent 34 years with the agency, and prior to running the department served as the state epidemiologist. Currier said she planned to spend more time with her family.
“It has been a privilege to serve in this role for nearly nine years. I have great passion for public health, and I have worked with some of the best people not only in the state, but in the country,” said Dr. Currier. “However, I have three beautiful grandchildren and a wonderful family who need me now. It’s time to pass the baton. I know the field of public health in Mississippi is in great hands.”
Despite the sanguine tone of Currier’s announcement, several legislators admitted they were shocked to hear of her retirement.
“What? What’s this all about?” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “It’s a disaster. She’s a very, very good administrator.”
Currier and the Department of Health have received accolades under her tenure. In 2016, she received the Nathan Davis Award for outstanding government service. And last year, the department achieved what Currier called a “hugely important” national accreditation.
But the department has also struggled to operate under years of budget cuts. In 2017, the agency reduced the number public health districts in the state from nine to three. That same year also saw the agency struggling to rectify a bill that swept millions from its trauma care program. And, after laying off the building’s cleaning service, Currier confirmed to Mississippi Today last spring that she was, indeed, vacuuming her own office floors.
“Well, sometimes we do,” Currier said at the time and laughed. “There is a vacuum in our file area, and it does get shared among all our offices here.”
It’s this kind of pragmatism that earned Currier the respect of many at the Capitol, even as she relentlessly pressured them for more funding.
“Dr. Currier has been a great asset to the people of Mississippi. In the time that I have known her and worked with her, I found her to be committed to improving the health and well-being of all Mississippians,” said Rep. Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg, vice-chair of the Public Health Committee.
Board of Health Chairman Dr. Ed Barham described Currier as a steadying force for the agency during the last several tumultuous years.
“She’s had to make some tough decisions along the way as the public health arena has dramatically changed in the last several years. I admire her fortitude, and she’s been a great leader of this agency,” Barham said.
Once Currier retires, Deputy State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs will serve as Interim State Health Officer.
“Her knowledge of public health and devotion to the people of Mississippi is unmatched. She will be incredibly missed,” Dobbs said.