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Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, speaks during a press conference at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles in September. (Al Seib / September 12, 2013)

The head of Los Angeles County's public health department has announced his intention to retire.

In a letter sent to department employees Thursday, department director Jonathan Fielding wrote, "After considerable thought, I have decided to leave County service when a successor, whom I understand will be identified through a nationwide executive search, is ready to assume the post."

He did not explain the reasons for his departure, but said he plans to "return to UCLA to help train future health leaders and do research on how we can be even more effective."

Fielding was appointed to the post in 2006. He is one of the highest-paid county department heads, with a salary of $309,494.

The public health department has about 4,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $750 million. It is tasked with a wide range of health and safety measures, including inspecting restaurants, investigating disease outbreaks and running a network of public health clinics.

Fielding cited a series of public health department accomplishments in his letter, including building a "state-of-the-art public health laboratory" and new public health centers, reducing food-borne illness through the restaurant grading program and securing a $600-million court judgment to reduce the threat of lead poisoning to low-income residents.

The department recently survived an attempt by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit that provides HIV and AIDS services to the county but is a frequent critic of the public health department, to break the city of Los Angeles off into its own public health system. The public health department was established as a new department separate from  the Department of Health Services in 2006.

And earlier this month, the department came under scrutiny by the County Board of Supervisors over reports that health and safety complaints at nursing homes were not always thoroughly investigated.

 

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Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com