Amid a shuffle Tuesday behind closed doors, one Riverside County public health officer was let go and another was appointed to take his place.
Dr. Geoffrey Leung, a Riverside University Health System physician, was appointed by the Board of Supervisors during an executive session to take the place of Dr. Cameron Kaiser, whose services were terminated by county CEO Jeff Van Wagenen.
“I am honored to serve in this new capacity and look forward to continuing the important work of the department as we focus on recovering from this pandemic,” Leung said. “Public health, at its core, is about protecting communities from disease, preserving health and prolonging life.”
Leung has been employed by the county since 2006 and for the last five years has been director of ambulatory services at RUHS in Moreno Valley.
The licensed family practitioner has been at the helm of the Incident Management Team overseeing the county’s vaccination program since the fall and has been a principal spokesman for RUHS at board meetings over the last roughly six months.
His annual salary, despite the step up, will be unchanged at $303,000, according to the county Executive Office.
The health officer is responsible for registering vital records, enforcing county, state and federal public health laws, advising the board on health-related policies and monitoring programs intended to promote health safety and sanitation.
Kaiser took over from former health officer Dr. Eric Frykman in 2012.
Before coronavirus, Kaiser had a lower profile, generally making public statements only during influenza outbreaks and tuberculosis scares.
The doctor’s unilateral decisions at the outset of COVID-19 caused a deep rift in the county. He mandated universal masking, social distancing and school closures before the state got involved. The restrictions prompted the board to review the basis for the orders, and public hearings were held in early May, culminating in both bitter protests and praise for the actions.
The board ultimately voted to end most of the restrictions and harmonize the county’s requirements with whatever the California Department of Public Health mandated.
More recently, in January, Kaiser stirred controversy by signing directives, as he did a year ago, canceling the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, citing coronavirus exposure risks.
The nosedive in tourist-related events in the Coachella Valley over the last year has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses and wide-ranging job displacements, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership.