BROOKSVILLE — After nearly two decades of providing health services to Hernando's neediest residents, Elizabeth Callaghan has announced her retirement as administrator of the Hernando County Health Department.
Her last day will be Jan. 19.
Callaghan's announcement comes just as the Health Department is completing its move into a new permanent home in Spring Hill, a facility she was central in securing. The formal grand opening is Oct. 29.
While she is proud of that facility, Callaghan points to a variety of programs the Health Department has added over the years as some of her most notable accomplishments.
Those include adding dental services for adults and children in the 1980s, primary care for patients with AIDS and HIV in the 1990s, dental services for those patients a few years later and finding creative ways to expand the eligibility for those who need health services.
Callaghan, 59, said she is also proud of the many prevention programs the department provides.
"The real savings is when you provide education and move toward a preventive approach to public health,'' she said.
She credited her staff for working as a team and noted that the employees have "a public health heart,'' which allows them to be patient, considerate, loving and caring with the myriad of different people they serve.
A Tennessee native with a background and education in nutrition, Callaghan became the Hernando Health Department administrator in 1993.
In her letter to her supervisors at the Florida Department of Health, she wrote that entering retirement brings her both pleasure and sadness. She expressed her appreciation for having the opportunity to learn, practice and teach public health over the years.
"I have to admit, however,'' she wrote, "that I have received more than I gave. The families that I met throughout these 30 years (in public health positions) have taught me patience, gratitude and persistence.''
Callaghan also noted that she was fortunate to have learned the business from outstanding public health experts, "and I hope that I have led by their example.''
Her departure comes shortly after she was forced by funding reductions to lay off 10 workers, trying to minimize the impact on direct services to customers. She said that has been the single-biggest challenge she has faced, especially during a time when services are needed more than ever.
In retirement, Callaghan said, she plans to spend time with her three grandchildren and get back to a passion for painting that took a backseat to her busy professional life and raising her children.
Those who have worked with Callaghan praise her efforts.
"She has been the driving force behind every new initiative, every new program, every service,'' Jean Rags, the county's community development director, said of Callaghan. "She has been the person that has made sure that residents throughout Hernando County are receiving as many services, quality services, as possible.''
Callaghan was on the committee that chose Rags for her first county job more than 12 years ago.
"As a person, she is professional, articulate, knowledgeable, customer driven, quality driven and funny. She is. She has a wonderful sense of humor,'' Rags said.
Rags, who also announced her retirement recently, said she was pleased to work with Callaghan over the last 12 years to make the new Health Department office on Forest Oaks Boulevard a reality.
"She built the Health Department into what it is today,'' Rags said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.