El Paso has gone more than a year without a permanent public health director, one of three key leadership vacancies the city has been working to fill this year.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza

Pediatrician and city-county health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza has served as the interim public health director since Angela Mora, the previous director, retired in May 2022. The health authority is a separate position from the director. Ocaranza, who still practices pediatrics, is authorized to speak on medical matters for the city and county. 

Mora replaced longtime director Robert Resendes, who resigned in May 2020. She oversaw the department for two years through the peaks of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths before joining the exodus of public health leaders who left amid political blowback during the pandemic.

El Paso’s public health director position opened in September 2022, according to the online job post, and will remain open until it’s filled – though the city is in the process of updating the description.

“While we have had several interviews for the position, we have not found a candidate to lead our Public Health Department,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino told El Paso Matters. “We have directed Human Resources to revamp the job specification and we will be opening the position back up for applicants.” 

The Department of Public Health will have more than 350 employees, according to the proposed fiscal year 2024 budget. The department provides services to both the city and county, from giving childhood vaccinations to responding to infectious disease cases. The department also conducts research and tracks data, such as COVID-19 numbers.

The director oversees an operating budget of $19 million and has a starting salary that ranges from $105,620 to $198,480, according to the last job brochure. The city hired the recruitment company Baker Tilly to lead the search. 

The city did not provide El Paso Matters with the number of applicants or clarify what job specifications will change in the updated job post at the time of writing.

The health director, which is one of three key city leader vacancies right now along with the city manager and police chief, oversees day-to-day operations of the public health department, which include working with local organizations on education campaigns, communicating infectious disease control, monitoring statistics and identifying sources of funding.

Candidates should have a master’s degree in public health, health care management, public administration or a related field, according to the brochure Baker Tilly last updated in June. Candidates should also have management or administrative experience in a health care organization or license to practice medicine in Texas. The city prefers a candidate with bilingual proficiency in English and Spanish.

In the meantime, Ocaranza will continue to serve as interim director. Ocaranza has worked for the Department of Public Health for more than 15 years and his contract will be up for renewal at the end of this year.

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a health reporter at El Paso Matters and Report for America corp member. She previously covered food and environment at The Arizona Republic. You can follow her on social...