To our health

Butte County’s new director of public health talks goals, challenges

Danette York says she looks forward to the challenges that lay ahead as the new director of Butte County Public Health.

Danette York says she looks forward to the challenges that lay ahead as the new director of Butte County Public Health.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Within a minute of meeting Danette York, one can discern that she’s not from around here. It’s the tinge of a Southern drawl that shows her roots. Born and raised in Georgia, she attended the University of Ohio—her husband is from the Buckeye State—where she got her master’s in public health.

The couple’s dreams of living in the Pacific Northwest brought them to the West Coast. York worked for nearly a decade as head of Lewis County Public Health and Social Services in Washington. A few weeks before starting her job as director of Butte County Public Health on July 1, she and her husband and their two dogs—a great Dane and a giant schnauzer—moved in their RV to a campground on Highway 99 in Gridley.

York is the successor to Cathy Raevsky, who retired as public health director March 1. She comes in at a time of turmoil and uncertainty in Butte County, in the wake of the Camp Fire—so she certainly has her work cut out for her. Not to mention public health concerns such as a recent measles outbreak, which was just this week declared over, and an opioid epidemic. York brings with her experience working in a rural area, which she says will help her to tackle the issues her new community faces.

With just two weeks under her belt in her new position, York sat down for a meet-and-greet with the CN&R at Mugshots in downtown Oroville.

What made you interested in coming here?

I had been in Lewis County for almost 10 years. We just wanted a change. It’s just me and my husband now; the kids have grown and are living in different areas. And we were a little tired of the rain, wanted a place a little warmer. I saw the opening in Butte County and put my résumé in. They actually offered to interview me by phone—or, Skype—and I said, “No. I’ll pay for it myself, but I’m going to come down and make sure it’s a place we want to live.” And, it’s great—it’s a beautiful, beautiful area.

You’re living in Gridley?

We made a few trips down and started looking for housing. As I’m sure you know, the housing market is tough right now. We were already campers, so we owned a trailer. We hoped to move from a house to a house, but that didn’t work out. So, we brought the trailer down and set it up in a campground in Gridley. We’re under contract for a house here in Oroville and we’re hoping closing will be early August.

You came here at an interesting time, with a lot of unprecedented things happening. Did that factor into your decision?

I of course was not here during the fire or even shortly thereafter. It is a very unique situation for everyone involved, and it’s a unique situation for me. But, my professional expertise is in public health and I like the area, and the community seems really resilient. So, it didn’t really play into my decision. I recognize that it’s a challenge and that recovery is a long process, but I have a great team. Everyone told me that ahead of time. And now that I’ve had a chance to meet almost all the employees, I’m really excited about getting started working with our local team, as well as our state and federal partners.

What do you see as your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge is getting to know the local and state codes and laws that apply to public health and other areas as well—because we’re all partners. Coming from a different state, there is a learning curve, and it takes time. But I’m excited about learning new things. I consider myself a lifelong learner. I’m a geek, I guess—I like to read codes and strategic plans and things like that.

Here in Butte County, we have a high rate of drug addiction—and not a lot of treatment centers—and we have a huge homeless population. We just had the Camp Fire, which has introduced issues with air quality and water contamination. We recently had a measles outbreak. So, there are plenty of pretty big issues facing our community. Do you see any of them as being highest on your priority list?

I think all of those are priorities. And obviously all of them are important. With the exception of the Camp Fire and the recovery for that, the rest of them are not unique to Butte County. So, it’s public health- or social services-related. I look forward to working with my team to learn more about the problems here and how they came about, and what our role can be within them and addressing them as best we can.

What kinds of things did you deal with in your last job that prepared you for this one?

Washington state had one of the largest measles outbreaks in recent history. The county that I worked in did not have any positive cases, but the work around public health when an outbreak occurs, regardless of whether you have any cases in your area, creates more work. Physicians start watching it closer—which we want them to do. People get scared. That’s understandable, but our job in public health is education first and foremost, to make sure people are prepared with information. We can use some of the same skills across the different states.