Macon’s new public health administrator comes home to bring equitable care

Dr.+Jimmie+Smith+began+his+new+job+as+the+administrator+of+the+Macon-Bibb+County+Health+Department+on+Jan.+4.

Liz Fabian

Dr. Jimmie Smith began his new job as the administrator of the Macon-Bibb County Health Department on Jan. 4.

During one of the most challenging times for public health, the Macon-Bibb County Health Department has a new physician at the helm who will battle health inequities.

Dr. Jimmie Smith has been the county’s administrator less than a month, but already knows his way around the maze of offices inside the old Zayre store and former Kroger supermarket on Emery Highway.

As a newlywed in the early 2000’s, he went to work as the county’s director of health education in that sprawling 100,000 square-foot-building.

“When I saw this opportunity, it gave me a chance to come home because I was commuting,” said Smith, whose career has taken him to Washington, D.C., Atlanta and back to his wife’s hometown.

He is married to Dr. Yvette Monique Davis-Smith, whom he dated while they were in residency together at the Phoebe Putney hospital in Albany.

As her husband commuted, Davis-Smith put her degrees from Spelman College and Wayne State University to work in Macon. She is the niece of the late Sgt. Rodney Davis, who is the community’s only Medal of Honor winner. He received the award posthumously for a life-saving act of bravery that got him killed in Vietnam.

Since 2001, Davis-Smith has been practicing at Navicent’s Family Health Center while the couple raised three children: Elizabeth – doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware studying plant and soil science, Amelia – a biomedical engineering major at Georgia Tech and Gordon who is majoring in psychology in his second year at Morehouse College, according to Dr. Smith’s biography.

Smith’s career path has focused on public health administration and education. He studied biology and chemistry at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, not far from where he grew up in West End, North Carolina. He earned his medical degree from Wayne State University, like his wife. Following his residency, he was selected as an education staff fellow at the American Academy of Family Physicians in Kansas City, Missouri.

He picked up a Master of Public Health from Fort Valley State University in 2007 and has taken graduate courses in educational leadership at Mercer University, where he served as an assistant professor of practice from 2012-2018 and was a groundbreaking liaison between academia and the North Central Health District, which includes Macon-Bibb and 12 other counties.

Smith’s resume also includes a stint in the nation’s capital where he served as special assistant to the assistant secretary for health under the 16th surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

With Smith’s extensive experience, he comes to the local administrator’s job with valuable experience in minority health and disparity issues at a time when Blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times as likely to die of COVID-19 than whites, and are about four times as likely to be hospitalized with the deadly virus, according to the CDC.

Liz Fabian

Monday, during Smith’s first Macon-Bibb health retreat as administrator, Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Elaine Lucas asked whether Smith is seeing a disparity in the number of minorities requesting COVID-19 vaccinations.

Indeed, more whites are making vaccine appointments, he said, which was not a surprise to Lucas.

“I hear from a lot of Black folks saying, ‘I’m going to wait to see what happens,’” Lucas said. “I think that’s a problem we’ve got to deal with.”

“Please convince your constituents… they need to call,” Smith replied. “We now have 25 million cases and 400,000 deaths. This is not a time to wait.”

Appointments can be scheduled by calling 478-749-0179 or 844-987-0099.

Lucas wants to encourage community leaders to set the example by getting vaccinated in the pubic eye.

“More Black folks have died with this thing – Black and brown folks – and now they’re not willing to take the shot,” she said.

As the board plotted its priorities for the coming year, healthcare inequities is something Smith will focus on.

“We need to do a better job of using the data to tell the community where those disparities are,” Smith said.

He also wants to maximize strategic partnerships with other health, education and philanthropic partners to enhance services and stretch tight budgets.

As Smith says, his goal is “facilitating the possibilities” that have yet been untapped.

Another of his primary duties will be to supervise the department’s move later this spring from 171 Emery Highway to the old OrthoGeorgia offices at 1600 Forsyth Street.

With the new location, the board is working on rebranding the health department, boosting its image and encouraging more people to take advantage of the services offered.

“There’s already a lot of great stuff going on here but COVID has sorta hampered that,” Smith said.

Once the new facility opens, he wants to make healthcare more accessible and could experiment with different hours outside of the normal business day. He would like the board to consider funding a mobile health unit to help bring care to the community.

Smith expects it will take up to two years for things to revert to pre-pandemic operations as vaccinations and testing will continue to be a main mission for months to come. Metrics for other health services have dropped between 40-90 percent while lab testing increased 1,800 percent due to the coronavirus.

He is exploring ways to market other services to patrons coming for their COVID-19 vaccines as a means to provide more comprehensive care for those who might not have a regular physician or medical insurance.

Although statistics show higher mortality and hospitalization rates among Blacks and Hispanics, fewer minorities appear to be making vaccine appointments in Macon-Bibb County, administrator Dr. Jimmie Smith said. (Liz Fabian)

Smith, dressed in a striped bow-tie and crisp white shirt, used a break in the board retreat to check in with the staff as dozens of cars were lining up for afternoon vaccinations. He’s enjoyed seeing the community offer  treats, hats and rain ponchos for those working tirelessly to combat the virus.

Going forward, Smith also will be studying any long-term effects of COVID-19 on those who survived it.

While he’s a familiar face to many, look for Smith to be more in the public eye in the coming months as he settles into his new role. Most recently, he served as senior deputy of health science in the chronic disease section of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Smith’s understanding of the workings of the state health bureaucracy is another reason health board vice-chairman Chris Tsavatewa, who was on the search committee, believes the new administrator will be a tremendous asset to Macon-Bibb County.

“His proven executive leadership skills and existing knowledge of our community will be foundational as he identifies ways to reach more residents to achieve better health outcomes while addressing socioeconomic barriers to health,” Tsavatewa stated in a news release.  “And he will challenge us to build coalitions and develop partnerships across our community to accomplish these important objectives.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or email [email protected]