After two decades working in the local public health sector, Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard said he’s ready for a new challenge.
The Health Department leader since 2017 begins work in March as senior director of public health transformation at the Missouri Foundation for Health. Goddard said thoughts of his career’s next step predated the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when the newly created job with the St. Louis-based health care nonprofit landed on his radar a couple of months ago, he expressed interest.
“I was in no rush to get out the door, but at the same time I was looking forward to what the next set of challenges looked like,” he said, noting his final day with the Health Department is Feb. 26. “I was looking for an opportunity where I could continue to make a difference in the field of public health.”
Goddard said he’s been asked numerous times if burnout amid the stresses of the pandemic contributed to his Jan. 13 retirement announcement.
“If anything, the pandemic made it a tougher decision, not an easier decision,” he said, noting he’s far from burned out. “I’m energized and still look forward to going to work every day. … The thing that comforts me is knowing how deep the department is, how ready our leadership is to take on this challenge. I’m still going to be in the game, but just from a different perspective.”
At the Missouri Foundation for Health, Goddard said he’ll work with leaders in local and state public health systems to implement national best practices.
“They are looking at public health systems and trying to determine if they are working as efficiently and equitably as they should. We think that Missouri probably has some room to improve,” he said. “There are probably a number of ways to do that across the state, if we’re just willing to take a good, critical look at ourselves.”
The Missouri Foundation for Health has commissioned a study with researchers at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health to examine the state’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Goddard said. Case studies will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the public health system. The project is funded by an $860,000 contract with the nonprofit, according to the university’s website.
“COVID has laid bare some of the faults in the current system. We need to find those and improve what we look like going forward,” Goddard said. “I suspect we’ll be using that as the blueprint and then really getting in and working with stakeholders to see how we can achieve some of those goals.”
Goddard said some components of his position will crystallize once he starts in March.
While he said staff accomplishments have been numerous during his 22-year career at the Health Department, Goddard points to several in the past couple of years that stand out. They include the 2019 passage of Springfield’s Tobacco 21 Act, which increased the purchase age for tobacco products to 21 from 18, as well as the Health Department receiving accreditation two years ago through the Public Health Accreditation Board. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is one of eight accredited public health agencies in the state, according to the PHAB website.
“I don’t think I can adequately express how talented and passionate this group of people is,” he said, noting staff were working on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a federal holiday – in order to continue pandemic-related duties.
“It’s a special group of people who have poured their heart and soul into this pandemic response. I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with them.”
City Manager Jason Gage said in a news release announcing Goddard’s retirement that the local community is in a “great place moving forward” because of the Health Department leader’s contributions.
“I have 100% confidence in our ability to provide continuity of services throughout the rest of the pandemic because Clay has empowered a very talented team of dedicated public servants at the Health Department,” Gage said.
Assistant Director Katie Towns will serve as acting director upon Goddard’s departure. A search process is being launched to find a permanent successor to lead the over 100-employee department with no timetable announced to fill the spot, according to city officials.
Towns said for Goddard’s last few weeks at the Health Department, a lot of attention is being devoted to the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. Its first shipments from the state arrived Jan. 11. She said 975 doses are received at a time, adding the Health Department is currently working with Jordan Valley Community Health Center to administer the vaccine.
Those eligible at the Health Department and Jordan Valley vaccination clinics include front-line health care workers not affiliated with CoxHealth or Mercy, first responders, and emergency services and public health administrators and staff, she said. Doses for high-risk individuals are not yet available at the Health Department.
“That’s one of the strengths of our community is that we are able to manage these sorts of herculean projects together,” Towns said. “We’re just using our partnerships in order to make sure we have good strategies in place to reach folks and get vaccines distributed as soon as we get it in our community. The biggest issue currently is the supply is trickling in.”
Towns credits Goddard for part of her professional development in the 10 years they’ve worked together.
“He’s been a tremendous mentor to me, both professionally and personally,” she said. “I am looking forward to continuing to work with Clay because we do have a passion for this field, and we share that. Clay will be looking for ways he can continue to integrate the system of public health in our state. We in Springfield and Greene County have always been advocates for that.”
The new director will be the 21st in Health Department history. Goddard succeeded Kevin Gipson, whose tenure was 13 years, while Harold Bengsch before him served for two decades.
Goddard, who plans to establish dual residency in Springfield and St. Louis, said he’s excited to make an impact and improve public health on a statewide level.
“I like to improve things, and that’s going to be one of my big goals is working with others so that we can get better together,” he said.
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