Walla Walla County’s public health department has lost its director.

Meghan DeBolt, who headed the Department of Community Health since 2016, left her position as of 5 p.m. on Friday.

County Commissioner Jim Johnson this morning confirmed DeBolt’s departure, noting that it is a personnel issue and he can say “very little” at this time.

Walla Walla County’s Board of Commissioners is taking steps to ensure the stability of the health department, Johnson said, pointing out that doing so during a pandemic makes this a difficult task.

“We have to determine which direction to take,” he said.

DeBolt has so far declined to comment publicly on the announcement.

In a letter sent to community health partners in the middle of last week — and anonymously supplied to the Union-Bulletin — DeBolt said Friday was to be her last day in her formal role as head of the health department.

She went on to write that she has enjoyed working with health providers and her role in helping build a safe and thriving community.

DeBolt’s letter said Nikki Sharp, manager of the department’s Healthy Communities Division, will be the health department’s point of contact.

The former director wrote that she is looking forward to working with the community in other capacities.

In late May, DeBolt was stopped by county commissioners from speaking publicly for the health department after media reports surrounding alleged “COVID-19 parties” made it all the way the New York Times and then were retracted.

At the time, DeBolt told a number of media outlets that groups of people apparently had gathered together for the purpose of giving each other the coronavirus.

It later appeared to be a case of families holding large birthday parties and other parties while ignoring physical distancing and other pandemic health advice, seemingly unconcerned about transmission of the illness.

A number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Walla Walla did come from social gatherings, DeBolt reported to commissioners over the summer.

After the public stumble over “COVID-19 parties,” county officials only allowed its emergency operations center spokespeople to issue press releases and speak to media.

DeBolt had been the head of Umatilla County Public Health since 2014 when she was hired to replace Walla Walla County’s outgoing public health director, Harvey Crowder, four years ago.

In Umatilla County, she was brought in to help strengthen and add professionalism to that department, officials have said.

DeBolt and her family returned to the Pacific Northwest after she worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., and in research and data analysis fields for the Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas before that.

DeBolt earned a bachelor of science degree in health science from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, and a master’s degree in public health from Emory University. She was also on track to receive a master’s degree in business administration in healthcare management from Oregon Health and Science University.

When she was hired in Walla Walla County, at a salary of $88,000 per year, Johnson said at the time he and his fellow commissioners were most impressed with DeBolt’s work history and resume, her capabilities and approach to health care.

Johnson said this morning the county will announce a search for a new public health director as soon as possible.

“The public deserves to know,” he said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.