Springfield-Greene County Health Dept. Director Clay Goddard announces retirement

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 10:10 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 at 5:37 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release/KY3) - After 25 years with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Director of Health Clay Goddard announced his retirement at the end of February.

He will take a position of Senior Director of Public Health Transformation at Missouri Foundation for Health. In this role, Goddard will draw on relationships with local and state public health leaders, knowledge of Missouri’s public health system and national best practices to move Missouri toward a model public health system.

The role will allow him to make a larger impact on public health transformation statewide, but his focus will continue to be centered on advocating for better public health delivery for communities like Springfield.

“I really do believe there’s a lot of inequities in public health,” Goddard said. “I think that the pandemic has really laid those bare and I’m hoping to use my perspective, my experience and my passion to improve the way public health is delivered across the state.”

“Clay has been a consummate professional throughout his career in public health and certainly throughout the course of this unprecedented public health crisis,” said Springfield Mayor Ken McClure. “His steady hand, compassionate leadership and brave decision making throughout the pandemic has not only provided me with support as Mayor, but also undoubtedly saved lives. I wish him the best and am very thankful he is staying in the state of Missouri and continuing to focus on ways to improve community health.”

Goddard began his public health career as a college intern at the health department, and although he had initially intended to pursue an Air Force commission, he found public health to be his calling.

“I knew within a week I’d stumbled into the career I wanted for the rest of my life,” Goddard said. “Public health is the perfect intersection of public policy and direct outcomes—you get to help people and see the result of that play out in their lives and in the health of the community you serve.”

If you had asked Goddard what accomplishments he was most proud of before the pandemic, he likely would have pointed to a number of milestones the department reached under his tenure—and he would have stressed his pride in the team that accomplished them. Those accomplishments include the department earning national accreditation, the passage of Springfield’s Tobacco21 ordinance, and the successful Regional Health Assessment and Community Mental Health and Substance Use Assessment.

Goddard also mentioned the satisfaction of working with the CDC to study a COVID-19 outbreak at a Springfield Great Clips which brought worldwide attention to the area as an example that masks do work.

“To be a part of something like that is amazing,” Goddard said.

Goddard also admitted that the job had its tough moments.

“We take it personally every time that we have to announce deaths,” he said.

Over 180 other public health administrators around the country have left their jobs since the pandemic broke out as they’ve had to deal with a lot of stress including personal attacks, threats and politics.

But Goddard said he welcomed the challenge of dealing with an historical moment that needed people to step up to the plate.

“I’m not burned out. I’m not leaving because of the pandemic,” he said. “If anything I’m energized by what our staff has been able to do here and I want to make that the norm across the state.”

Goddard once said he knew he was doing his job right if everybody was mad at him and he recalls leaving a grocery store one night when he saw someone standing at his wife’s jeep.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no! There’s somebody vandalizing it.’” he recalled. “They scurried off but we get there and there’s a napkin where somebody had written, ‘Thank You’. Little things like that really buoy your spirits.”

City Manager Jason Gage credits Clay with being an exceptional leader during very challenging times. “The community is in a great place moving forward, thanks to Clay. I have 100 percent confidence in our ability to provide continuity of services throughout the rest of the pandemic because Clay has empowered a very talented team of dedicated public servants at the Health Department. While we will miss him, we certainly support him as he continues to do important work statewide,” Gage said.

Goddard felt that now, as vaccine distribution becomes the light at the end of the tunnel signaling an end to the pandemic, provides an opportunity to step into a broader role to help address the challenges public health entities face across the state.

“Being part of our community’s response to this pandemic has and always will be the highlight and great privilege of my career. I have been so profoundly encouraged by how our community came together in such difficult circumstances, but I think I am most proud of how the staff of the Health Department rose to the occasion, under intense pressure, often pointed criticism and sometimes unbelievable odds, to prove just what top-notch professionals our community is lucky to have. The most difficult part of this transition, for me, will be saying goodbye to staff who have become like family. I have said for years that our staff are second-to-none. They have proven that time and time again this past year, and I leave our community in more than capable hands,” Goddard said.

“Clay’s leadership during this pandemic and beyond has been a great asset to our community. His steady hand for over 25 years at the Springfield-Greene County Health Department is appreciated and commended,” said Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon. “While we certainly congratulate him on these next steps for which he is uniquely qualified, he will be missed.”

Goddard’s last day with the department will be February 26. Springfield-Greene County Health Department Assistant Director Katie Towns will serve as acting director upon his departure. The city of Springfield will then begin a search to find a permanent replacement.

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