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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Retiring McMahan leaves lasting health legacy

In the past 20 years in Allen County many serious health issues have posed challenges. And Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan, M.D., has led the charge in each battle in her role with the Allen County Department of Health.

At the Allen County Executive Board of Health meeting at Citizens Square Monday evening, the internist announced she is planning to retire.

We hope her successor will be as dedicated and passionate about the job as McMahan has been since her appointment in May 2000.

The executive board will begin searching for her replacement in the coming weeks, according to a news release from the Department of Health. While McMahan will officially step away from her full-time duties as health commissioner in early June, she plans to remain with the department part-time long enough to assist with the transition and training of a new health commissioner.

The health commissioner serves as executive officer of the Allen County Department of Health. The position is appointed by the executive board of health to a four-year term. Re-appointments occur every four years with the number of re-appointments unlimited. The duties of health commissioner include enforcing all applicable public health laws, serving as medical director of the department’s clinics, providing public health guidance to the various divisions of the department while consulting with physicians and other health professionals and agencies, and assessing and developing programs to provide and promote the maximum health protection for county residents.

“Being a physician and the health commissioner have been the greatest professional privileges of my life,” McMahan said in the news release. “I am grateful for the opportunity to have both worked one-on-one with patients and with various community groups and residents on important public health issues.”

News-Sentinel.com applauds McMahan’s leadership in responding to various health threats, such as H1N1 influenza, hepatitis A, SARS, AIDS, West Nile virus, smallpox, Ebola and Zika.

She has led the charge against smoking, vaping, obesity, infant mortality, suicide and sexually transmitted diseases.

But she has said she considers the fight against opioid abuse the biggest challenge of her career. She organized a task force to address the problem and became one of Indiana’s leading voices on the subject.

McMahan also showed her courage by introducing a controversial plan in 2016 for a needle-exchange program locally, insisting it could be effective in lowering the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, because intravenous heroin users were spreading disease by sharing dirty needles.

County commissioners approved the plan, and within a year McMahan reported more dirty needles were coming into the department’s exchange facility than new needles were going out. What’s more, many people who visited the facility agreed to be referred for substance abuse treatment and even more had testing for hepatitis C and HIV.

McMahan is a state-licensed physician, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services civil surgeon, and a member of the Fort Wayne Medical Society. Prior to becoming health commissioner, she spent three years in private practice as an internist with the Medical Group of Fort Wayne and a year with the Roudebush V.A. Medical Center in Indianapolis.

“Dr. McMahan has a passion for the public’s health overall and the drive to carry out what most might never attempt,” said Mindy Waldron, administrator of the health department. “She has taken this department to a level of proactivity we will all endeavor to carry on long after she leaves. She is truly an inspiration when it comes to developing initiatives to make the community a healthier place to live and prosper.”

She will leave big shoes to fill.