When Dr. Kelli Wells took over as head of the Duval County Health Department in May, she said many of the employees were operating in crisis mode.
There had been frequent changes in leadership and the agency was recovering from public criticism over its handling of tuberculosis cases.
“It’s been challenging to deal with the concept that historical experiences have caused people to not necessarily have faith in leadership,” Wells said.
But Wells said the tide at the department has begun to turn. When she took the job, one of her priorities was to improve morale. She hosts monthly luncheons for employees and is kicking off a healthy weight initiative.
She also frequently visits the many sites the health department operates to show support and she’s spent a lot of her time forming partnerships with local organizations and agencies.
Wells said she expected to have employees who wanted to have faith in their leaders and to be valued and appreciated. She’s made this a priority during her time at the health department so far.
Much of her work is done from her office on the seventh floor of the health department’s headquarters on University Boulevard. The space is surrounded by large windows, bookcases with medical literature and a small conference table.
Wells is adjusting to the new space, as well as the new city after working for the health department in Escambia County. Her husband teaches algebra and coaches football at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville. She also has four school-aged children.
“There are times when I’m not as on top of everything as I would like to be, but I’ve surrounded myself with people at work who are wonderful resources and really good at what they do,” she said.
Having faith in her employees has allowed Wells to move the agency from its focus on the past to its new initiatives in the coming year, she said. Those include stressing STD prevention and working with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on a behavioral health program for local schools.
“What the agency needed was someone who had experience as a clinician, had a connection to the community and who has that level of compassion and empathy that allows you to sort of see past the process,” Wells said. “I know who I am, I know I have a heart for people and I want people to do well and that I value people — there is a measure of satisfaction that comes in knowing that you’ve got the skill set and you’re equipped to do what was necessary.”