Role changes coming for health officials leading Austin-Travis County COVID-19 efforts

Stephanie Hayden-Howard will become an assistant city manager in Austin on May 10. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dr. Mark Escott will step down from his position as interim health authority of Austin and Travis County to take on a new role as chief medical officer for the city, and Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard will become an assistant city manager.

Escott and Hayden-Howard have been the two most visible leaders of Austin and Travis County’s fight against COVID-19, briefing the media and presenting information in public meetings since the first cases of the virus were confirmed in March 2020.

Dr. Desmar Walkes will take over as the city’s next medical director and health authority May 31. Since 2007, Walkes has served as the local health authority for Bastrop County, where she has been the point person for the county’s response to COVID-19. Walkes, according to a city news release, has more than 30 years of experience as a family practitioner, medical authority and medical director as well as in administrative medicine.

Escott was named the emergency medical services system medical director for the city of Austin and Travis County in 2016. In addition to that role, he took over the position of interim medical director and health authority for Austin and Travis County in 2019. In addition to the 2,000 EMS and fire department personnel he oversees, Escott said in a May 7 news conference he will also be in charge of Austin’s other clinical services as chief medical officer.

“Particularly when we are looking forward at the recovery phase of this pandemic, those clinical services are going to be critical for those who have lost jobs or health insurance benefits to make sure they have an affordable way to access those health care services,” Escott said.

Hayden-Howard will become Austin’s assistant city manager for health and environment and culture and lifelong learning May 10.

In that role, she will oversee Austin Public Health and four other city departments, which, according to a city media release, include a total of 2,600 full-time-equivalent employees and a $394.4 million combined budget. The other city departments are the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Resource Recovery, Austin Public Library and Austin Animal Services.

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