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Harford health officer announces retirement after more than 30 years with health department

Harford County Health Officer Dr. Russell Moy, who has guided the county's Health Department during the coronavirus pandemic, announced earlier this week he plans to retire in the fall.
Harford County Health Officer Dr. Russell Moy, who has guided the county's Health Department during the coronavirus pandemic, announced earlier this week he plans to retire in the fall. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

To regulars viewers of Harford County Council meetings, Dr. Russell Moy has become a familiar voice the past few months. Through the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, Moy, the county’s health officer, has provided regular updates to the council.

And while he does not foresee the virus ending anytime soon, Moy does have his eyes on the end of his career, announcing his retirement at Tuesday’s council meeting.

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Moy, 67, plans to retire in fall, paving the way for another health officer to take on the role. He is leaving for personal and family reasons, he said, but acknowledged that he was “probably past [his] retirement date anyway.” He feels the time is right to pass the torch to someone who can adjust to the changing medical landscape that COVID-19, which has changed the department.

“I am not going to disappear,” he said, "I just know that the proper thing to do is get this team together for the long-run.”

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Moy served as the county’s deputy health officer from 2011 to 2017, whereupon he became the health officer. He has spent 31 years in the state’s system, and the last nine with the Harford County Health Department.

The county health officer is a tricky position to fill, Moy said. It requires both medical and organizational know-how to run the department and understand the public health issues at play. Moy is working to find a successor the county’s board of health can nominate and the health department can approve. They are looking within the state and county but are also open to people who held comparable or relevant positions outside of Maryland.

“It’s hard to find people who are comfortable in both areas,” Moy said.

Whomever is decided to fill the position, Moy does not want it to be vacant; the department’s services and data-collection is important during the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic.

"There is so much going on, you have got to have people in place,” Moy said. “I am planning on the fall, but I am actually going to work with the state and the county to determine what is the best time for this.”

The Harford County Health Department had to go “all-in” and focus its response on the pandemic, Moy said, as it began to spread. Moy said other public health issues in the county are still important, but balancing them during the spread of the coronavirus has been challenging, and will likely stay a challenge. Moy’s replacement will have to find an equilibrium between COVID and non-COVID related efforts as the pandemic endures.

"It is really hard to balance when you have got a pandemic that is so new and so different,” he said. "I think it is finding that balance ... That is a judgment call right now.”

The task is made even more difficult by the shifting understanding and reaction to the virus. New information about the virus becomes available “every week,” Moy said, and through the process of shuttering the state and reopening it, the health department had to adapt to new sets of rules in response.

Moy offered thanks to the county council, the county executive, community partners and the health department staff. The county council gave it right back. The council has repeatedly praised Moy’s calm, data-driven approach and steady hand in keeping citizens and officials updated on the virus’ progress in Harford County.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate having you in the position that you have been in,” Council President Patrick Vincenti said. “I’ve said many many times that there is no one any more equipped than you, to have the proper temperament and personality, as we went through these troubling times and continue to go through them.”

Councilman Curtis Beulah thanked Moy for lending his expertise to the council and being present to answer questions and help them navigate the pandemic.

“It has always been a pleasure working with you and your institutional knowledge is just off the chart,” Beulah said. “Thank you for all your service and all you do for the county.”

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Moy did not specify who is being considered to fill the position but said that there are a number of qualified applicants.

“[We will] just have to see who is up for it,” he said.

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