Board member chosen to lead South Carolina health panel

December 19, 2018 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s health and environmental department ended a 17-month search for a new director Wednesday with a meeting that spent less than five minutes in public session and ended by picking a former hospital executive already on the agency’s board.

Dr. Rick Toomey’s appointment to lead the Department of Health and Environmental Control must still be approved by Gov. Henry McMaster and the state Senate. McMaster praised his appointment hours after the board met.

Toomey was president of Beaufort Memorial Hospital from 2007 to 2016. McMaster appointed him to DHEC’s board in February, eight months after the search for a new director started.


DHEC has been looking for a new director since July 2017 when Catherine Heigel stepped down. The agency said it had more than 130 applicants and still had to reopen the posting for the position this fall to see if there were any other highly qualified applicants.

It wasn’t clear if Toomey was in the mix before the posting was reopened. Only one board member spoke publicly about Toomey during the 18-minute meeting, which included 13 minutes behind closed doors.

“He can be a leader of leaders and I think that was evident in the interview process,” board member Jim Creel Jr. said.

When DHEC hired Heigel, it released a list of finalists. No list was released this time. The agency even blacked out the names of visitors to its headquarters in September when it interviewed finalists after The State newspaper requested the visitor’s log under the Freedom of Information Act.

DHEC has more than 3,000 employees and is a sprawling agency that oversees everything from hospitals and public health to water quality, dams and landfills.

Toomey will be paid a minimum of $178,000. If approved, he will serve a four-year term.

Board Charmain Mark Elam did not talk about Toomey at Wednesday’s meeting, choosing to instead issue a statement like he has whenever he has something he wants to say publicly since his appointment to the board in May.

“Dr. Toomey’s years of leadership experience in the health care industry, coupled with his in-depth familiarity with DHEC make him uniquely qualified to lead the Department as it continues its current positive path forward,” Elam said in his statement.


McMaster defended DHEC’s search, saying Toomey’s extensive health care experience and success running hospitals in Beaufort and Nash County, North Carolina, make him the right person to run the agency.

“The Department of Health and Environmental Control Board conducted a professional, thorough, and deliberate search for their next director that produced the best candidate for the job,” the governor said in a statement.