Deputy Director Gwen Sims appointed interim executive director of Harris County Public Health

Gwen Sims first joined Harris County Public Health in 1997. (Courtesy Harris County Public Health)
Gwen Sims first joined Harris County Public Health in 1997. (Courtesy Harris County Public Health)

Gwen Sims first joined Harris County Public Health in 1997. (Courtesy Harris County Public Health)

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously appointed Gwen Sims to serve as the interim executive director of Harris County Public Health in anticipation of Executive Director Umair Shah's departure Dec. 18. Sims, who currently serves as the deputy director of HCPH, will serve in the new role until a permanent executive director can be hired.

The appointment comes just weeks after Shah announced Nov. 17 that he would be leaving the department in mid-December to serve as the secretary of health for the state of Washington. Shah joined HCPH in 2004 as its deputy director and as the director for disease control and clinical prevention. He was appointed executive director by Harris County Commissioners Court in 2013.

"We know that COVID-19 is seeing a resurgent yet again in Harris County—it never really got to where it needed to be—but the numbers are very scary in the county and very scary in the state," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during the Dec. 1 meeting. "We need to do everything we can to make sure that we have an aggressive and consistent operations of—not just the COVID-19 response—but everything else that the Public Health Department does, which is important work, particularly now."

To ensure consistency in the department's operations, Hidalgo said the court would draw on current HCPH staff to help fill Shah's role while an expedited national search for a permanent executive director is executed. Hidalgo added that a committee of the chiefs of staff of each member of the Commissioners Court will be tasked with launching the search and that Joshua Stuckey will serve as the chief transition officer.

"We [will] also take advantage of the fact that we have a number of health-specific executive search firms that we just happen to have in place so that we can recruit high-quality candidates quickly for a new public health director," Hidalgo said.

According to HCPH's website, Sims is a registered and licensed dietitian who joined HCPH in 1997. As Sims is not a doctor of medicine, Hidalgo added that Sims would be tasked with appointing a local health authority who is a doctor of medicine during her time as interim executive director.

Prior to her current role as deputy director, Sims served as the director of Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention for HCPH. Sims also serves as Champion for the Collaborate Activities, Recognition & Events Workgroup and has provided oversight and guidance for a number of other department organizations, including the Drug Abuse Prevention Taskforce; the Chronic Disease Tag-Up; the Injury Prevention Tag-Up; the Social, Emotional and Mental Well-Being Tag-Up; the Maternal & Child Wellness Taskforce; Obesity Reduction and Tobacco Cessation community projects; Health Education; and Healthy Living Matters.

Outside of HCPH, Sims serves as chair elect of Cancer Alliance of Texas, as vice president of L.I.F.E. Houston and as a board member for Houston Recovery Center Technical Assistance Group, among other roles.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 met Jan. 21 at its new administrative offices. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 lays groundwork for 911 dispatching plans

Cypress Creek EMS currently serves as a dispatch facility for 17 emergency agencies.

“Hope is on the horizon,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said at a press conference Jan. 4. “The vaccine is here.”
Vaccine distribution starts in Fort Bend County and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Houston area.

As of Jan. 21, Spring ISD has 125 active cases and Klein ISD has 99. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Spring, Klein ISDs see COVID-19 active case counts decrease districtwide

Both districts saw their active case counts drop after recording relatively high counts the week prior.

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-area health system leaders talk progress, hurdles during COVID-19

Officials from CHI St. Luke’s Health and UTMB Health said community members must remain vigilant as case counts climb but that they expect the current surge to peak by early February.

During a North Houston Association meeting Jan. 20, Jazz Hamilton—first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services Group for CBRE—discussed how the future of retail will likely be shaped by the conveniences to which consumers have become accustomed amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pandemic-induced retail conveniences are here to stay, official says

According to Jazz Hamilton, first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services group for CBRE, between January and November of 2020, consumers spent almost $550 billion online—a 33% increase from 2019.

Spring ISD’s enrollment is 1,630 students less than the previous projection for the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Spring ISD)
Pandemic leaves Spring, Klein school districts underenrolled, facing financial challenges

Education leaders are fighting for financial security through the 2020-21 school year.

Spring and Klein health care workers at local hospitals began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in mid-December.
Vaccine distribution continues among Spring, Klein hospitals

Spring and Klein health care workers at local hospitals began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in mid-December.

The estimated number of active COVID-19 cases in Harris County has surpassed 50,000, reaching 51,362 as of the most recent data Jan. 20, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Active cases top 50,000

See the latest trends on COVID-19 in Harris County.

The number of homes sold increased in all nine ZIP codes year over year. (Community Impact staff)
See how the Spring, Klein real estate market fared in November 2020

The number of homes sold increased in all nine ZIP codes year over year.

In addition to vaccine hubs, there are also smaller community vaccine providers throughout Texas, such as pharmacies, that may also have the vaccine available. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
EXPLAINED: When, where and how Texans can receive the COVID-19 vaccine

As Texas is still in the early stages of rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, many Texans are still unsure about where, when and how they can get inoculated.

The barbecue eatery is the second Killen's Restaurant Group venture to launch in The Woodlands area. (Courtesy Killen's Barbecue)
Killen's Barbecue opens in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.