Santa Cruz public health officer to retire; county recruiting new public health officer

February 23, 2023

Santa Cruz Public Health Officer Gail Newel, M.D., MPH, recently announced she would be retiring—for the second time—after serving for the past four years as one of California’s top public health officials. Over her 30+ year career, Dr. Newel delivered more than 10,000 babies as an obstetrician-gynecologist, and has been active in policy and advocacy work at the regional, state, and national level, with a special focus on women’s health and underserved populations.

When she accepted the Santa Cruz public health officer job in 2019, little did she know that a job that is largely invisible in normal times would catapult her into the public eye during a once in a generation pandemic.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Dr. Newel was one of the first public health officials in the nation to institute a shelter-in-place order. Under her watch Santa Cruz experienced some of the lowest COVID-19 case rates in the country, as well as one of the smallest gaps in vaccination by race or ethnicity.

“It is with deep appreciation for her contributions to our community that I congratulate Dr. Newel on her upcoming retirement as health officer for Santa Cruz County. She worked day in and day out to stop the spread of disease and keep everyone in the community safe and healthy,” said CMA President Donaldo Hernandez, M.D.

Dr. Newel first retired in 2012 after 30 years of clinical practice, and moved to Santa Cruz where her wife, also a physician, had taken a job. In 2019, however, she felt called to a second career in public health and became Santa Cruz County’s public health officer on July 1, 2019.

Dr. Newel, like health officials across the nation, was subject to personal attacks and threats from by extremists who sought to intimidate those who promote science and public health. Yet she remained steadfast in her support for public health measures and was integral to helping Santa Cruz withstand the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We owe her and other public health officers a debt of gratitude for their courage and leadership during the COVID-19 emergency, when extremists opposed almost every measure to halt the coronavirus pandemic and targeted our public health officers with threats of violence and intimidation,” said Dr. Hernandez. “Thank you, Dr. Newel, for never wavering in the face of unfair, uninformed, and personal attacks, and for standing up for the health and wellbeing of everyone in your community and all of California,”

Santa Cruz Recruiting New Public Health Officer

With Dr. Newel scheduled to step down in June, Santa Cruz county is currently recruiting for the county health officer job. Applications are being accepted through Friday, March 24, 2023, and all qualified California physicians are encouraged to apply. Click here for more information.


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