Lewis County Board of Health Selects New Advisory Board Member


It may not be as exciting as a draft for professional sports, but the Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Advisory Board has acquired its next rookie: Teresa Ekdahl-Johnson.

In this analogy, if the advisory committee is the team, the Lewis County Board of Health are the coaches. Made up of the county commissioners, the board has the ultimate say over new selections after recommendations first go through the team.

Public Health Director Meja Handlen said she was pleasantly surprised to see four highly-qualified candidates seeking the position. When applications were called for last month, the notice stated the vacancy on the 11-member committee should be filled by someone with experience related to homelessness and housing services.

Applicants first were screened by the advisory board, which aptly then gives its recommendation to the commissioners on who to choose. The advisory board was represented on Monday by Elizabeth Rohr.

“At our meeting, we agreed that all the applicants were acceptable and qualified, and there were two that seemed to stand out,” Rohr said.

The advisory board ranked its top two candidates, with Patty Howard, associate pastor at Gather Church, which offers various services to homeless individuals, coming in first place.

“Her application stated that she wants to make sure the unhoused and underhoused citizens of Lewis County are represented in the decisions that affect them,” Rohr said.

In second place was Ekdahl-Johnson, who is employed by mental health clinic Cascade Community Healthcare as a registered nurse practitioner. She previously worked at Valley View Health Center and Providence Centralia Hospital. She specializes in substance abuse treatment.

“(Ekdahl-Johnson) stated on her application that she wants to collaborate to help strengthen our community's work, finding solutions and resources while making sure all parties — such as organizations, clinicians, government, individuals — have accountability,” Rohr said.

Commissioner Sean Swope responded that in his personal ranked order of applicants, Ekdahl-Johnson was at the top with Howard in last place.

Commissioner Lindsey Pollock countered with the opposite, saying she felt Howard was the “strongest” candidate.

“I understand you're probably concerned about her association with Gather, but as we go forward with our homeless ordinance — and I would anticipate there are going to be challenges from outside groups with that — if we have a very marked diversity on our advisory board, I think that strengthens our position,” Pollock said.

Commissioner Lee Grose offered that “whoever deals with homelessness also deals with mental health issues.” He said he’d rather have a mental health professional on the board than someone who is “really homelessness-people centered,” suggesting what he called a “dismal failure” in housing services is due to a lack of focus on mental health.

Handlen offered that the advisory position was marketed as a vacancy for people with experience in housing and homeless services because the board already had mental health representatives.

Pollock suggested she was “perfectly comfortable” appointing Ekdahl-Johnson to the board, and the three commissioners then voted unanimously to do so.