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County’s chief health officer announces resignation

Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, is resigning.

Sands, who started the job overseeing the regional health entity in March 2007, announced his departure in a news release Thursday.

During his five-year tenure, health district officials managed a hepatitis C outbreak that resulted in one of the largest public health warnings in the nation. They also dealt with a shortage of H1N1 flu vaccine and with several cases of Legionnaire’s disease at a Strip hotel.

Despite the district’s accomplishments, Clark County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani both welcomed the news of Sands’ resignation.

Both commissioners pointed to several of Sands’ decisions as souring relations with the health district.

Sands’ move in April to vacate the district’s main building in downtown Las Vegas because of structural concerns suspended some services and left taxpayers on the hook for the salaries of district employees put on administrative leave.

Giunchigliani, who also serves on the health district board, said there was no pressing reason to shutter the building. She thought it was a political move to force the commission’s hand to finance a new space and wasn’t done out of concern for employee and public safety.

Add in questions over his decision to hand out three years of pay raises while the economy faltered and two pending lawsuits – one over funding for a new building and another over property ownership – with the county, and it was simply too much, she said.

Giunchigliani said district employees began raising concerns about Sands’ management nine months to a year ago.

She said a leadership change should help alleviate the strained relationship. Sisolak said Sands’ departure will help "build some bridges instead of some fences."

Sands, 57, was not forced or pressured to resign, Giunchigliani said, but she guessed that a scheduled public performance evaluation in the coming weeks might have been a factor.

"I applaud him for putting the health district first," Giunchigliani said.

Through health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore, Sands declined a Las Vegas Review-Journal interview request until after the special meeting next week.

"I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the district as the chief health officer and look forward to continuing to make a difference in the community in a future role," he said in the release.

The health district’s board will have a special meeting June 21 to accept Sands’ resignation, at which point the board will discuss the official date of his departure. Giunchigliani said the board might also appoint an interim chief health officer and start the search process for a permanent replacement.

Contact reporter Kyle Potter at kpotter@review journal.com or 702-383-0391.

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