Head of Gaston County DHHS resigns following Facebook post

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — The head of Gaston County’s Department of Health and Human Services, Chris Dobbins, has resigned amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes days after a post on Facebook that linked racism to disparities in housing and health care for African Americans.

As he left the job for the last time Monday, Dobbins told Channel 9′s Ken Lemon, “I hope this community continues to address the tough issues because tough issues are not easy to solve."

Last week, Dobbins posted on Facebook saying racism contributes to disparities that made people of color more susceptible to issues that keep people of color marginalized.

He wrote, “Gaston County DHHS also recognizes that it represents and works within the systems built to benefit some people over others.”

He ended with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr -- "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Lemon talked to the head of the county’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chris Thomason.

Thomason said he felt like Dobbins was ready to get at the root of the problem.

According to Gaston County Health Department figures on disparities in health issues, black people in Gaston County are almost twice as likely to die from stroke and diabetes and twice as likely to become pregnant as a teen.

Infant mortality is nearly 3 times higher among black people.

“There is a need and that need is being swept under the rug,” Thomason said.

The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners said Dobbins never brought his concerns to them and when he saw the post he instructed the County Manager to look into the claims and find out why they were made.

He insists Dobbins resignation isn’t related to the post.

Officials said the departments will now be led by the county’s Public Health Director Stephen Eaton and Social Services Director Angela Karchmer.

“We can’t thank Chris enough for his years of dedicated service to his home county and the groundbreaking work our team has undertaken during his leadership,” County Manager Dr. Kim Eagle said. “We wish him nothing but the best as he moves forward in his career, but know that our department remains as strong as ever with Steve and Angi ready to step into expanded leadership roles.”

Dobbins, a Gaston County native, started working for the county after a distinguished career in the United States Air Force. He worked his way up from assistant health director, then health director before becoming the head of DHHS in 2013.

Officials said he was also named Health Director of the Year in 2017 by the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors.

During Dobbins’ time at DHHS, the department got national recognition for its work in teenage pregnancy prevention and at its Teen Wellness Center. The county said the department is also preparing to roll out one of the most comprehensive tobacco policies in the state, starting July 1.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the County and our residents for the past sixteen years,” Dobbins said. “I could not be more proud of our work and all that we have accomplished together. I have no doubt the great work will continue with the amazing team we have built at the Department.”