Sarah Poe began work this week as the new director of the Malheur County Health Department. (Submitted photo).

ONTARIO – The new director of the Malheur County Health Department says that when a community unites, it can accomplish anything.

Sarah Poe, who took the agency helm this week, said a sense of community in Malheur County prompted her to apply for the job.

“I was amazed at how connected people are in Malheur County. If someone cares and wants to make a difference it really can happen,” said Poe.

Poe, a native of New Plymouth, Idaho, said she is excited about her new role.

“I am really looking forward to working with the incredible team that is already at the health department,” said Poe.

The health department provides an array of health services to Malheur County residents including immunizations, health education, family planning and administers the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

About 20 employees work at the department.

She said she loves “working with caregivers, and I have a respect for what an honor it is to be part of someone’s health care.”

Poe, 36, said her time in the health care field goes back to when she was just 16 and she became a Certified Nursing Assistant at what was then Holy Rosary Medical Center in Ontario.

However, Poe did not pursue a career in the medical field right away. She attended the College of Idaho in Caldwell and earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.

“I had more of an appetite for English and that has been my forte academically, but my heart has always been in community health,” said Poe.

Not long after graduation, Poe went to work for Heart ‘n Home Hospice & Palliative Care LLC. Poe said she worked there about four years.

“I ran volunteer services over eight offices,” said Poe.

That experience helped her become a better manager, she said.

“As part of their leadership team, I really thrived in the role of setting and attaining goals and building teams and creating systems that really worked to serve our community,” she said.

Poe said she also worked as the Malheur County drug prevention coordinator through Lifeways Behavioral Health.

Teamwork and unity are important to Poe, who notes that workplace relationships “drive everything.”

“When you empower people, and know their goals and gifts, really nothing is insurmountable,” said Poe. She also feels leadership is a two-way street.

“It is important to know where my strengths lie in my team. I know I have some really phenomenal nurses. And I have their backs,” said Poe.

Poe said she believes any good team must focus on possibilities and “be optimistic.”

“Sometimes people are so focused on problems they don’t know what to do when their goal is met. I feel like so much is going good right now in this community and so much is right in the health department,” said Poe.

Poe said she gathers inspiration through her Christian faith and her family.

“Beyond that, I really see my life as a way to live my values and leave a legacy. That I am a force for good in my own small way,” she said.

Starting out, Poe said, she will depend on the employees and nurses at the health department.

“I am not going to know everything I need to know right away,” she said.

She plans to rely on registered nurse Rebecca Stricker, who was the interim director of the agency, after former director Lindsay Atagi departed. Poe said Stricker is “the cornerstone” of the department, and she will continue in her role supervising nursing.

Poe said she hopes to build strong bonds in the department and with its community partners.”

Her day-to-day work, she said, will focus more on administrative tasks, budgets and setting goals.

“My job is to make sure we are meeting requirements set out by the state, the goals of the county and to make sure all of that paperwork and reports are done. I also must keep us accountable and make sure my team has the tools to be successful,” said Poe.

She hopes to enhance a department she believes is already proficient.

“I know that I do well as that champion, creating a support network with my team,” said Poe.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.