ELO health chief moving to Ashland for new job

EAST LIVERPOOL – The city will be looking for a new health commissioner in 2014 after Jelayne Dray submitted her resignation on Christmas Eve to Mayor Jim Swoger.

Dray, who has served as city health commissioner since September 2010, has accepted the position of health commissioner for Ashland County-City Health Department, effective Jan. 13.

Dray will serve as both health commissioner and administrator in Ashland, where the health board had planned to merge the two positions with the retirement of the current administrator, according to other published reports.

That board met Monday and voted to hire Dray, setting her annual salary at $70,000, with the same benefits afforded other health department employees.

A registered nurse, Dray received her master’s degree on Dec. 12 in science and nursing from Wheeling Jesuit University and said, “I thought it was time to look for something else.”

She has actually worked at the city health department 10 years, having served as health nurse since 2004 until taking over the health commissioner’s post following the retirement of Gary Ryan.

Dray called her decision to take the Ashland position “bittersweet,” saying that, while she looks forward to her new job, “This is my hometown. It’s been a privilege to serve in this capacity and give back to the local community where I was raised.”

She said she is “very anxious” to get started in the Ashland position, which she called “unique” with its combination of both a county and city health department.

“Public health is my love,” Dray admitted.

Ashland is about two hours away from East Liverpool, and Dray said she will be relocating to the city of about 20,000 people which is the home of Ashland University. The county she will also represent has 52,000 residents.

“It’s a very quaint little community,” Dray said, adding she learned of the open position through the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners.

Mayor Jim Swoger, who heads the health board, said Thursday, “We’re not happy, but I think it’s best for her. It’s a big pay raise and it’s a new beginning for her.”

Legislation authorizing him to appoint Ryan back to the health commissioner position on an as-needed basis was passed by the board of health when Dray was off duty for a medical issue, and Swoger said he will again ask Ryan to fill in.

“I’m not calling a special meeting. All the board members should know by today,” Swoger said, adding the board will begin its search for a new health commissioner at its next regular meeting, set for Jan. 16.

Some City Council members have proposed in the past that eliminating the city health department and utilizing the county health department would be a cost cutting move, and Swoger was asked if this might be a good time to consider that idea, rather than hire a new commissioner.

“No, not at this time. I think it’s very important to the city to have (its own health department). Hopefully, we’ll maintain what we have,” he said.