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  • Last modified 52 days ago (Aug. 25, 2021)

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Health nurse quits, cites politicking

Staff writer

Marion County health nurse Diedre Serene shocked county commissioners by announcing her retirement Monday.

“I just felt like it’s time,” said Serene, who served the county for 33 years. “It’s become so political, and I want to get back into health care.”

Serene’s last day as health department administrator will be Sept. 20.

County commissioners accepted her resignation after an executive session that she requested.

What was discussed in the closed session was not disclosed.

Serene said she has no hard feelings toward commissioners and her letter of resignation was written prior to the meeting.

She plans to accept a contract with RSI, a group that responds to public health crises.

Commissioner Jonah Gehring said the announcement did not surprise him.

“She has been thinking about it for a while,” he said. “She was just looking for the right time.”

Commission chairman Randy Dallke, who has known Serene for 17 years, said she probably was in high demand as an experienced nurse.

“I wish her the best,” he said. “Because they are looking for registered nurses everywhere.”

Commissioners plan to hire Serene’s replacement from within the health department if possible, Gehring said.

“It’s something we are going to have to work through,” he said.

Commissioners could hire an administrator and separate it from health officer responsibilities rather than have a new hire take on both jobs as Serene did.

“I am not sure someone new can assume both roles right out of the gate,” Gehring said.

The county’s health consultant, physician Don Hodson, also said Serene’s retirement “was not a big surprise.”

Both Hodson and Serene have had their share of frustrations as many in the community resisted efforts to combat COVID-19.

This past week must have seemed like history repeating itself as Goessel’s school board reversed a decision to mandate masks despite a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Peabody-Burns, the lone holdout, requires masks for students and staff. Despite a new case at Marion Elementary School, Marion does not, nor do Centre and Hillsboro.

None of the county’s five districts require eligible students or staff to be vaccinated against.

Hodson’s frustration with the county commission’s repeated refusal to enact a mask mandate last year caused Hodson to leave a meeting conducted online in November.

“This is a political action,” he told commissioners as he signed off. “I’m going to go now. Goodbye.”

The commission reluctantly accepted a mask mandate from Governor Laura Kelly days later.

The workload created by COVID-19 also has hit health department employees hard. Many have been unable to take vacation days because of the need for contract tracing and vaccination clinics.

Serene took a medical leave of absence in April.

Hodson stepped in as public health officer in her absence, and nurse Wanda Manickam took over public health issues.

Hodson said he was happy for Serene because she has many talents, but admitted replacing her would be difficult.

“It’s a nursing job and it isn’t,” he said. “It will be hard to find someone to fill those shoes, I am afraid. We will just have to see.”

Last modified Aug. 25, 2021

 

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