After a nearly 18-month wait and near the end of an eight-hour meeting Tuesday, Shasta County’s Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 vote selected Dr. James Chienchung Mu, 61 — a family medicine practitioner who’s worked for nearly 34 years in Redding — as the county’s new Public Health Officer.
Supervisors Mary Rickert, District 3, and Tim Garman, District 2, voted against offering Mu an at-will employment agreement supported by chair Patrick Jones, District 4; Kevin Crye, District 1; and Chris Kelstrom, District 5.
The Health Officer position was vacated May 3, 2022, when the previous county board voted by another 3-2 margin to terminate a similar agreement then held by Dr. Karen Ramstrom, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine who holds a masters of science in public health (MSPH).
Ramstrom led Shasta County’s health team for 4 years — 2018 to 2022 — only to find her public health career derailed after guiding through COVID the mostly conservative county in a primarily liberal state.
The vote to terminate Ramstrom was led by Jones, then-chair Les Baugh of District 5, and then-newly-elected board member Garman following the recall of Leonard Moty, also of District 2. Rickert and Joe Chimenti, District 1, voted against Ramstrom’s removal.
Dr. Mu came to Redding nearly 34 years ago as a medical intern at Mercy Medical Center after completing his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He then obtained his professional degree in medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1989.
After completing his internship, Dr. Mu started a family medicine career with associate positions at Shasta Regional Medical Center as well as Patients Hospital, both in Redding.
In February of 2022, Dr. Mu joined other Shasta County physicians and healthcare providers who spoke at a Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting against state pandemic mandates.
Tuesday, the board majority’s selection of Dr. Mu drew both criticism and praise.
Stephanie Taylor, who worked at Shasta County Health and Human Services, cautioned the board about hiring a doctor who has taken positions against vaccinations during the COVID crisis.
“It is important for the county’s Health Officer to have credibility with the medical profession as well as the HHSA staff who are stressed out with three years of overwork, and all of the changes in work loads” due to the 20 percent vacancy in staff positions since Dr. Ramstrom was ousted, Taylor said.
Rising in Dr. Mu’s defense, Redding physician Dr. Piyush Dhanuka, MD, a gastroenterology specialist with extensive experience in pancreatic disease and esophageal disorders, said, “I want to put my highest recommendation for Dr. Mu for this job. Most family practitioners are highly trained in epidemiology throughout their medical schooling and internship. Let’s move past the ghosts of the past,” Dhanuka said.
“He is the guy who has deep roots in the community and will have the best interests of Shasta County at large,” he added.
Supervisor Mary Rickert asserted a different viewpoint.
“I am concerned that this agreement allows Dr. Mu to continue with his private practice,” Rickert said. “I’m also concerned that this agreement we are considering states the appointee ‘may’ seek his master’s degree in epidemiology, not ‘must.’
At this juncture, chair Jones weighed in with his opinion.
“I think we are very lucky that Dr. Mu stepped forward. He is someone who has worked in the community for some time now,” Jones declared.
Following the county board’s vote, Dr. Mu addressed supervisors with this message:
“I would like to thank everyone who is here, whether you are supporting me or not. I would like to assure you that I will do my best to keep Shasta County healthy and happy. I’ve been here for more than 30 years and my kids were born here,” he said, his voice choked with emotion.
“I have deep roots here and my goal is to serve the county. I’d like to thank Supervisors Crye, Kelstrom and Jones for supporting me. For supervisors Garman and Rickert, I want you to know I will try my best to win your support,” Dr. Mu said.
“I intend to follow an evidence-based policy. However, if there are difficult dogma that are not good for the population in our county, then I will question and even challenge them because protecting my family and, by extension, the whole county is my top priority,” he stated.
“I will continue to gather wisdom through the public and through other medical professionals and agencies,” Mu added.
“For those who are skeptical of me, I will value your contribution. I will value your constructive criticism as well. My goal is to increase trust in public health through transparency, as we mentioned, and through honesty as well,” Mu said.
“Ultimately, I will provide healthy advice to the community, but I will not force that onto you. I will be as least intrusive as possible. Somehow, public health became a public political issue. Rather, I would really like to have public health as a background, just keeping everybody safe.
Thank you very much. Thank you,” he concluded to the accompaniment of scattered applause in the board chamber.
Dr. Mu will officially take over the position effective Oct. 23 with a salary of $106.86 per hour or $18,522 per month, stated Monica Fugitt, Director of Support Services for Shasta County, who presented a staff report prior to the board’s discussion.
The Health Officer position is a full-time position. However, in order for Dr. Mu to successfully disassociate from his current Family Medicine Practice in a community notoriously short of such general practitioners, Fugitt noted Dr. Mu will ease into his full-time duties by working at 40 percent during the first two months, 50 percent in month three, 60 percent in month 4 and 80 percent in months five and six.
Any deviation from the above timeline must be agreed upon in advance and in writing between the Health and Human Services Agency Director, County Executive Officer David Rickert and the employee, Fugitt noted.
Dr. Mu “shall not be prohibited from his private practice of medicine” as long as he continues to meet the minimum time requirements for the Health Officer position,” the at-will employment agreement states.
However, “no county premises, resources or staff shall be used by” Dr. Mu “for the private practice of medicine,” the agreement continues.
Dr. Mu agrees that he will “wind down, dissolve and transfer” patients in his private practice and will “no longer be engaged in any private practice of medicine except for the occasional and incidental practice of medicine during times outside of” his normal working hours, Fugitt clarified.
However, “the expenditure of reasonable amounts of time for educational, charitable and professional activities shall not be deemed a breach” of the employment agreement, she noted.
In exchange, the county will reimburse Dr. Mu upon proof of payment for expenses related to maintaining his annual memberships in the Shasta County Medical Society, the California Conference of Local Health Officers, the Health Officers Association of California, the American College of Preventive Medicine and other appropriate organizations, the agreement states.
Dr. Mu will also receive reimbursement for tuition and the cost of required textbooks necessary to obtain his Master’s of Public Health degree.
The county will also pay for “reasonable and necessary” fees, travel expenses, food and lodging incurred while attending association, state and/or national meetings for professional development, as long as such expenses are approved by the HHSA Branch Director of Public Health.
Prior to the board’s discussion of this topic, other items of business were undertaken or presentations made on a variety of subjects including:
• A public presentation of a $100,000 plan to publicize and educate county residents as well as state energy officials of the county’s unanimous opposition to any revival of the Fountain Wind Project, a wind-driven series of up to 47 bladed turbines installed on 4,500 acres of private and leased land in an unincorporated area of Shasta County.
In June 2021, the Shasta County Planning Commission unanimously denied the application for a conditional use permit necessary to build the project. However, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 205 in June 2022 to take effect Jan. 1, 2023, allowed the California Energy Commission to take over the project’s siting and licensing despite the county’s opposition. Hearings on the project should begin later this year or early next year.
• Supervisors voted 4-1 with only Garman dissenting on an $80,000 contract with the Redding-based architectural firm of Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto, AIA & Associates, Inc., for architectural and engineering services and the development of a schematic design for the proposed new home for the Veterans Services Office (VSO) which would move from 1885 Shasta Street, in the daylight basement of the Shasta County District Attorney’s building, to a county-owned building almost directly across the street at 1880 Shasta Street.
Such a move would allow the VSO to more than double its square footage to add employees and services for veterans while more than tripling the amount of available parking spaces, from six to more than 20. The contract contains another $10,000 contingency in case of unforeseen complications.
• Received a presentation from Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson — his sixth so far — on fully staffing the county’s jail.
One of the jail’s three floors, designed to house up to 90 inmates, is vacant due to the lack of 17 Correctional Deputies needed to properly supervise the floor with three shifts daily, as well as supervisory and support staff.
The latest proposed plan would delete seven Correctional Officer I and II allocated positions and add the same number of Deputy Sheriff allocated positions. The plan will also delete two Correctional Officer I and II positions at the Detention Annex on Breslauer Way and two Correctional Sergeant allocations and add two Deputy Sheriff and 1 Sergeant allocation on the Patrol side of law enforcement operations.
• Unanimously cancelled the Board of Supervisors meeting originally scheduled for Nov. 21 so that county employees could spend time on with their families on Thanksgiving Day without having to worry about preparing board agendas or attending a board meeting during a shortened work week.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an identity error regarding Dr. Karen Ramstrom’s professional history. We apologize for any confusion.