Point man: City appoints its first health authority to guide COVID-19 response

HARLINGEN — Officials here have a point man to help guide them through the coronavirus outbreak.

City commissioners have appointed Dr. Michael Mohun to serve a two-year term as the city’s health authority, charged with helping officials handle health-related matters stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

“The city of Harlingen asked me to help,” said Mohun, an emergency medicine specialist who voluntarily took on the job.

Under state law, cities “may appoint a physician as a health authority to administer state and local laws relating to public health.”

At City Hall, officials have worked with Mohun since 2005, when he was named medical director for the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, the local nonprofit ambulance company.

“Both the ambulance service and the city work so closely together that it makes sense,” Mohun said, referring to his appointment.

In Harlingen, Mohun becomes the first health authority, City Manager Dan Serna said.

“This provides us with direct access to a medical doctor, someone who can complement our own health department and help in answering questions and responding to this health-related crisis we’re in right now,” Serna said.

Mohun, a 1979 graduate of Baylor College of Medicine, has 41 years of experience, much of it as an emergency room doctor.

“He has a great deal of experience, is highly qualified and we’re extremely fortunate to have Dr. Mohun to serve as health authority,” Serna said.

Job duties

For the job, Mohun has taken on duties “to efficiently and effectively prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 emergencies declared at the federal, state and local levels,” according to a resolution which commissioners passed as part of his appointment March 18. “It is necessary to take additional steps to prepare for, respond to and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to protect public health and welfare.”

During the crisis, Mojun said he’s helping officials field questions regarding the quarantine of residents.

“I’m overseeing protocol they put in place and helping to answer any medical questions that arise — if they have questions regarding quarantine, people traveling and coming back and people coming to the city,” Mohun said. “If they have questions as to who should be quarantined or not, I help sort that out.”

As part of his job, Mohun is charged with “establishing, maintaining and enforcing jurisdictional quarantine orders; aiding local boards of health, local health departments in quarantine inspections, disease prevention and suppression efforts, birth and death statistics and general sanitation issues with their jurisdiction; reporting the presence of contagious, infectious and dangerous epidemic diseases to local and state authorities; aiding local jurisdictions and boards of health in carrying out public health rules, ordinances, sanitation laws, quarantine rules; and required reporting of any vital statistics collected,” a city document states.

Other powers

Under the resolution, Mohun is also charged with “responsibility to oversee the enforcement and implementation of CDC guidelines and recommendations by the city’s public health and public safety personnel.”

The job gives Mohun “the authority to create guidelines and make determinations regarding absences, leave time, leave days and compensation of any employee who is quarantined as a result of COVID-19 and/or who tests positive for COVID-19,” the resolution states.

Mohun also has “the authority to procure, negotiate and execute contracts for goods and services that are necessary to mitigate, prevent, restore or repair damage caused to city equipment, personal property and facilities or to protect the safety of city of Harlingen employees, given that the emergency of COVID-19 and its potential spread constitutes an unforeseen emergency/matter of urgent public necessity and the delays posed by competitive procurement of contracts will prevent or substantially impair essential operations.”