‘The public’s doctor’

Local physician ruminates on new job as Butte County health officer

Dr. Andy Miller, shown here at the North Valley Indian Health Women’s Health Center, which he helped open.

Dr. Andy Miller, shown here at the North Valley Indian Health Women’s Health Center, which he helped open.

CN&R file photo by Howard Hardee

Andy Miller has dedicated much of his professional life to helping others be healthy. He got into medicine, he says, thinking he’d end up retiring as a family practice doctor. But sometimes life has other plans. While working at Northern Valley Indian Health, he saw his role shifting to administration. Then this week, he took the reins as Butte County health officer.

“The biggest change for me will be from working primarily with individuals to populations,” he said by phone. “It will take a lot of time and learning on my part. But that’s one of the really exciting things about it, all the opportunities for growth.”

Miller’s roots are planted firmly in Butte County. His family moved here in the 1800s. “We’ve been in the community for a little while,” he said with a chuckle. Miller grew up in Chico and he and his wife, Mimi, who teaches education at Chico State, now live in Durham and have a 20-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

For the past 14 years, he’s worked at Northern Valley Indian Health, the past eight as medical director. As a family practice doctor, he has a particular interest in parents and children. He translated that passion to the community by working to open the NVIH Children’s Health Center—previously owned by Enloe Medical Center, now a full-service clinic that accepts Medi-Cal patients. Then, earlier this year, Miller helped NVIH open the Women’s Health Center, focused on prenatal care and other OB-GYN services. It also accepts Medi-Cal.

“Dr. Miller has proven over the years that he has a public health heart and a heart for our community,” said Mark Lundberg, whose shoes Miller is filling. Lundberg resigned from the health officer position this summer after 21 years on the job for a position at Butte County Behavioral Health. “I hope that this new position will give him new opportunities and new ways to serve the community I know he loves.”

When Miller spoke with the CN&R on Tuesday (Oct. 25), it was only his second day on the job, a bit premature to ask him about full-fledged goals and department assessments, but he did say he’s looking forward to taking his career from the exam room to the public sector.

Some of the issues Miller says he knows public health officials continuously work with are “chronic disease, smoking rates, diabetes, homelessness, getting health care to the most vulnerable.” Reaching underserved populations is something he’s passionate about, he says. He sees opportunities to expand on the work he did at NVIH to serve larger groups of people.

“Clinics here have shrunk, as public health clinics across the country have shrunk,” he said. “I and the director who hired me are hoping to reverse that here. [With the Affordable Care Act], we expanded medical access but we didn’t really expand capacity.”

One realm in which Miller and Lundberg likely will interact is that of addiction services. That’s one of Lundberg’s primary focuses in his new role as physician with substance use disorders at the Department of Behavioral Health, and one that he spoke animatedly about. He’s optimistic about a few new programs that have the potential to help local people who struggle with opiate addiction and alcoholism.

“Many people are looking for solutions,” Lundberg said. “They end up in our jails and on our streets if you don’t treat them and find them help.”

Looking back, Lundberg said he found great satisfaction in the work he did as public health officer. “But 21 years is enough time to do it.” Now, he said, he’s ready to focus on working for the health of the community in a different way. As for words of wisdom for his successor, he said one thing Miller will have to grasp onto earlier than later is being in the spotlight.

“He’s already a trusted member of the medical community,” Lundberg said, “but he’ll need to work on new relationships that he hadn’t worked with before.

“He’ll be a trusted face of public health. I consider him the public’s doctor.”