Roderick Harris to succeed retiring Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan
Updated: 3:45 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022
Cuyahoga County's health department will soon have a new leader.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) appointed Roderick Harris to succeed Terry Allan as health commissioner, who is retiring after 33 years, including 18 in the commissioner role, according to a Wednesday news release.
Harris grew up in Cleveland and his family members still live there, he said.
“I’m really excited to come home after living in so many different cities and doing so many great activities and initiatives all around the country and be able to do this in my hometown, and a community that I feel connected to,” Harris said.
Harris holds a doctorate in public health and is the current deputy director of the Allegheny County Health Department in Pittsburgh. He will take over the reins at CCBH on April 11.
Allan is retiring from CCBH at the end of April, the release states.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve Cuyahoga County over the past three decades, working with our board, our extraordinary staff and a wide range of public health partners,” Allan said in the release. “With COVID-19 pandemic numbers finally dropping in our community, now is an ideal time to pass the torch to Dr. Harris to lead CCBH into the future.”
Harris previously worked at CCBH with Allan early on in his career, he said, and CCBH is where he decided he wanted to eventually become a health commissioner.
The Cuyahoga County health board oversees all municipalities in the county aside from the city of Cleveland, which has its own department.
However, Harris hopes use his knowledge and experience of growing up and living in Cleveland to explore collaborations between the two health departments, he said.
“Most of my family, if not all of my family, live within the city limits, so it’s in my best interest as well to have a city health department that’s optimal and that can partner with us and leverage resources,” Harris said. “I’m sure that there are some ways we can align or have some synergy.”
Harris wants to focus on addressing racial health disparities and promoting health equity in the region, he added. He grew up in Mount Pleasant, one of Cleveland's east side neighborhoods that reports poor health outcomes. He said he understands some of the barriers to good health that residents may be facing.
“Health equity is something that you have to do deliberately and intentionally, and it’s not going to be just something that the health department’s doing, but it’s going to involve a wide variety of stakeholders,” he said.
For example, Harris said he would like the county to collaborate with community organizations and non-profits that are already working to address health disparities, as well as help them secure funding for new projects.
Another one of Harris’s main goals is to help health department staff recuperate from responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on recruiting and retaining staff members, he said.
“They’ve been working very hard. They’re very tired,” he said. “We have to take advantage of the time that we have, while things are a little quieter, to make sure that we’re positioned well in case things pick back up.”
Harris’s first priority when he takes over is to meet with mayors and hear from residents of the communities under CCBH’s jurisdiction to get a sense of their concerns and needs, he added.
Harris has worked in public health for 25 years, according to the release. During his time in Pittsburgh, he led the health department’s gun violence prevention efforts and oversaw the Bureau of Community Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, according to the release. He also led a federally funded project to address health disparities in African American communities, the release states.
Harris was identified by an eight-member search committee led by CCBH board president and local physician Dr. Gregory Hall alongside Waverly Partners, a national executive search firm, officials said in the release.
“We are very excited that Dr. Harris will take the responsibility of leading the Board of Health," Hall said in the release. "Our community and region are fortunate to have recruited someone with Dr. Harris’s extensive public health experience and we are confident he will lead CCBH forward."
Harris earned a doctorate in public from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, a Master’s in Public Health in Health Services Administration from Meharry Medical College, and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health from Ohio University, according to the release.