San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Dawn Emerick resigned on Thursday evening, less than five months after she started the job and amid a sharp rise in local coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. Her resignation takes effect July 3.

In her resignation letter, Emerick said her decision to step down was, in part, influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s time for the City of San Antonio to appoint a person of color to lead one of the largest health departments in the country,” she wrote.

“I asked during my interview … whether replacing a white female executive leader with another white executive female leader, in a 60 percent Latinx community, would set the new leader up for success and create community confidence,” Emerick wrote. “The residents of this community and the Metro Health workforce deserve a leader who can effectively relate to their personal experiences.”

In an announcement Friday morning, City Manager Erik Walsh said that while “clearly the timing is not good,” the COVID-19 emergency “has revealed the depth of talent that exists within our health department, which will continue to lead the public health response.”

Colleen Bridger, who was Metro Health director before being promoted to assistant city manager, will serve as interim director until a replacement is hired. In May, Bridger announced that she would leave her City job July 17 to work as a private consultant, but has agreed stay on longer if necessary.

Emerick, whose first day on the job was Jan. 27, had been Metro Health director for less than two weeks when evacuees from the coronavirus-stricken region of Wuhan, China, arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

She did not respond Friday to requests for comment.

In an April interview with the Rivard Report, Emerick described being thrust into an unprecedented public health crisis while trying to get acclimated to a new job being like juggling “chainsaws and watermelons while walking on a tightrope.”

And the juggling never slowed down for Emerick, as the number of local coronavirus cases spiked sharply in June. In the past two weeks, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also has climbed, causing local officials to express concern about the area’s hospital capacity, particularly the availability of intensive care units. More than 600 people are being treated in area hospitals, and for the first time more than 200 people are being treated in intensive care units.

Emerick discussed the recent surge at Tuesday’s daily coronavirus briefing with media members, saying that she was “angry and tired, and it shouldn’t be this way.”

Emerick came to San Antonio from Benton County, Oregon, where she served as public health director for just nine months before she was tapped to take over Metro Health, which had been without a permanent director since Bridger was promoted to assistant city manager in March 2019.

Walsh said he would work with Bridger to develop a plan going forward, and said the City wished Emerick well in her future endeavors. 

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.