Erin Mrenak named new director of Erie County Health Department

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Erin Mrenak recalled the moment she fully realized she would be Erie County’s top public health official.

Mrenak, 43, sat with a group of Erie County Health Department staff in December, participating in a Zoom meeting with then-director Melissa Lyon.

“That’s when Melissa announced she was leaving and that Nicole (Bolash, deputy director of the county health department) and I were going to be in charge,” Mrenak said. “Everyone just turned around and looked at us.”

Following: Melissa Lyon has mixed feelings about leaving the Erie County Health Department

Mrenak was named acting manager that day. On Wednesday, she was hired permanently, pending approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. She is only the fourth person to hold the post of director since 1989.

But none of the other directors started their work during a global pandemic. In fact, one of the first issues Mrenak faced as director was an increase in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

“The key is to try to focus on the things we control and do well,” Mrenak said. “We can’t control what COVID does, but we can control our response.”

Mrenak began as acting director the day Erie County Executive Brenton Davis took office. It was Davis’ decision to hire Mrenak as permanent manager.

Although Davis said he was considering other candidates, both inside and outside the county health department, Mrenak was the prohibitive frontrunner.

“I gave everyone a serious look, but my eggs were in Erin’s basket,” Davis said. “There was no better job interview than being in that managerial role.”

Davis said he expects the state health department to approve Mrenak for the job since it has already approved her as acting director.

Following: Davis wants raises for top officials; Dem council members call requests ‘offline’

The county executive has repeatedly said it is time for the county to get back to work and for people to stop living their lives in fear of COVID-19.

Mrenak said she understands what Davis was saying, but precautions still need to be taken with more than 90 new cases of COVID-19 being reported daily and 60 or more county residents hospitalized with the viral illness.

“We don’t always agree, but we are able to find common ground,” Mrenak said. “We had an open dialogue. The county executive came to meet with COVID staff and he attended some of our events. He regularly checks in to see if we need anything.”

Following: One year later: Erie County battles another COVID-19 surge

Mrenak was hired at the county health department in February 2021 as its first director of strategy and policy, before being promoted to deputy director in October.

The Millcreek Township resident previously worked at Stairways Behavioral Health, where he finished as director of addiction treatment services.

“I was very happy at Stairways, but I was looking for a way to work outside of the behavioral health field,” Mrenak said.

In addition to a new director, the county health department has added two additional members to its board of health: Tim Pelkowski, MD, and Ferdinando Mirarchi, DO The board now has eight members.

Contact David Bruce at dbruce@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.