South Carolina’s public health director announced Thursday she will step down in two weeks and return to her old company in the private sector.
Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel announced her resignation at the end of an agency board meeting Thursday. Members of the DHEC board met in executive session for an hour prior to the announcement. Her final day will be August 5.
“It has been the highlight of my professional career,” she said while reading a statement. “I have been touched by (employees’) dedication, awed by your responsibilities and inspired by your talents.”
The agency said Heigel will return to the Elliott Davis Decosimo accounting office in Greenville as chief operating officer. Heigel was an attorney at the agency until her appointment to DHEC in 2015. Prior to that, Heigel was president of Duke Energy’s South Carolina operations.
DHEC’s largest challenge under Heigel’s watch came within a few months of her appointment, after record rainfall in October 2015 from the offshore Hurricane Joaquin caused more than three dozen private neighborhood or farm dams to fail across the Midlands. Heigel pushed legislators to add teeth to the state’s dam regulations and give her agency more staff and increased inspection authority. The failure of 25 more dams following Hurricane Matthew last year helped convince lawmakers to pass stricter inspection requirements in the spring.
Under her direction, the agency also attempted to modernize by privatizing its home health business. She also helped launch the SC Adopt-a-Stream program with Clemson University for the public’s help monitoring water quality in lakes, rivers and streams agency staff are not able to reach.
Members of the DHEC board said they were sad to see Heigel leave. “We’ll certainly miss you, Catherine,” Chairman Allen Amsler said. “And we all appreciate the job you’ve done here. I guess we should feel fortunate we’ve had you for two years because what you’ve done has been nothing short of incredible, in my opinion.”
DHEC’s senior director of legislative affairs David Wilson will serve as acting director until the board picks a replacement. Wilson currently serves as the agency’s liaison to state legislators. Board members are appointed by the governor, although all its current members are holdovers from Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration.