Following a nationwide search that began in September, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District announced Friday the appointment of Dawn Emerick, the public health director in Corvallis, Oregon, as the department’s new director.

Emerick will take over on Jan. 27, replacing interim director Jennifer Herriott, who assumed the role after Colleen Bridger was promoted to assistant city manager in March. Bridger led Metro Health from 2017 to 2019.

Emerick, a Maryland native, has served as the public health director in Benton County, Oregon, for the past nine months and has more than 20 years experience in the public health and human services sector. She told the Rivard Report she wasn’t looking to leave her current job, but was contacted by the search committee.

“It was a hard decision, but San Antonio is a gem from a public health perspective, and Dr. Bridger has done a wonderful job of raising the profile for San Antonio Metro Health,” Emerick said.

Prior to her work in Benton County, Emerick served as health department director in Oregon’s Clackamas County for three years. She also served as president and CEO of the nonprofit Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, where she earned a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of North Florida.

City Manager Erik Walsh said in a statement that Emerick’s “exceptional experience at the forefront of public health policy and a proven record of coordinating and implementing important public health initiatives” made her the best choice for the role.

“I have no doubt that her experience will bring new initiatives and help improve public health in our city,” Walsh said.

Emerick describes herself as a “public health baby,” explaining that she grew up in poverty and that her parents “took advantage of the public health safety net,” taking her to dentists and doctors who worked for the local health department.

When she had her first child, she utilized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, to help her because she was struggling to make ends meet.

“I am a product of the public health system, and am forever grateful that these programs existed to help me and continue to help others,” Emerick said. “Because of them, I am here now leading one of the most respected health systems in the country.”

San Antonio recently was recognized by a nonprofit that evaluates local health priorities for its efforts toward implementing policies that improve health and quality of life for its residents. CityHealth presented gold medals to San Antonio City Council members and health department officials for initiatives such as raising the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21.

Emerick, whose doctoral dissertation was on batterers intervention, said she is excited to join San Antonio’s public health team at a time when the issue of domestic violence prevention is being given high priority by public health officials, city leaders, and support groups throughout the city. 

“I honestly cannot wait to get involved in the latest domestic violence initiatives launched by the city and community,” said Emerick, who noted that her doctoral dissertation was on intervention for domestic abusers. “I cannot wait to really lean in and bring some of my experience to the table.”

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