After leading the Blue Ridge Health District for seven years and steering the region through the COVID-19 pandemic, director Dr. Denise Bonds is stepping down later this month, the district announced Friday.
The district will be led by an interim director while the Virginia Department of Health looks for a permanent replacement. Dr. Lilian Peake, the state’s director of epidemiology, will be the interim leader. Peake led the local health district before Bonds, who began in 2015.
“Working for the Blue Ridge Health District has been the most fun, the most rewarding, and the most challenging of any job I have had,” Bonds said in a statement. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with VDH colleagues, partner agencies, community members, local leaders and elected officials.”
Before joining the Virginia Department of Health, Bonds was the medical officer at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
One of 35 in the state, the Blue Ridge Health District serves the city of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.
The health district led the area’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a multifaceted effort that included everything from coordinating testing to investigating cases to leading town halls.
Early on in the pandemic, the health district was one of the first in the state to create a dedicated coronavirus testing team and to maintain a district-specific dashboard of COVID case data.
Once the COVID-19 vaccine was available, the district created a mobile-health unit and used home-bound services to make the shot easier to access.
“Personally, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Bonds said of the pandemic in December 2020.
Beyond the pandemic, the health district had expanded HIV testing and prevention services and increased access to testing sexually transmitted disease during Bonds’ tenure. She also launched a community health worker program, according to the announcement.
In 2020, the agency changed its name from the Thomas Jefferson Health District as part of an effort to be more equitable and inclusive.
From August 2020 to April 2021, Bonds also served as the interim director for the Rappahannock Area Health District.
“I am grateful for partnerships with our local health systems and community organizations who have aided in COVID-19 response and expansion of many essential public health services,” Bonds said. “I am humbled by BRHD’s dedication to improving the lives of those we live with and serve.”