The County of Santa Clara’s second longest serving County Executive, Jeffrey V. Smith, M.D., J.D., has announced his retirement, effective July 1, 2023, which will bring to a close a commendable 42-year career in public service.
“I have great faith in the County team we’ve built and I am very proud of our organization,” said County Executive Dr. Smith, who has served in the County’s top post for the past 13 years, making him the longest-serving executive since the 1970s. “It has been an honor to serve the community together with our 23,000 County employees, who hold the fabric of society together.”
Appointed County Executive in September 2009 during the recession, Dr. Smith led the County through difficult challenges with prescient decision-making. From the highly visible purchase of two struggling hospitals to internal leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as organizational cultural advances, his work will benefit Santa Clara County residents and employees for years to come.
During his tenure, Dr. Smith has expertly guided the County through dramatic economic growth and increases to mandated services – factors that grew the annual budget from $4.5 billion in 2009 to $11.5 billion in 2022 and increased the number of County employees from 14,000 to 23,000. He also made great strides in diversifying the County’s executive workforce and supported significant investments to increase diversity, equity and inclusion across County services.
“I believe that Santa Clara is the only County whose CEO is a doctor, lawyer and former elected official,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. “We have benefited greatly from his expertise, leadership and vision. We wish him all the best in retirement.”
As County Executive, Dr. Smith brought the idea of the County being a Learning Organization, a framework where employees within all 42 different County service areas can leverage tools and strategies to deliver exceptional service to clients. Part of the organizational transformation Dr. Smith introduced focused on process improvements and working toward solutions with cross-boundary teams. This has translated into the County becoming a national leader in employee learning and innovative solutions and service delivery.
“He hired the best and brightest and changed the whole culture of the organization,” said former Supervisor Ken Yeager, who is one of the 10 Supervisors under whom Dr. Smith has served. Dr. Smith sought to make the County’s executive leadership more reflective of the broader community, hiring a diverse set of department heads and senior leaders.
The resulting transformation has led to financial savings and operational efficiencies Countywide. Successful projects have ranged from the creation of the Reentry Resource Center – now a national model in reducing recidivism – as well as a local placement plan for foster youth, and the development of the Health System Patient Flow transformation, which was a critical tool in the County’s COVID response.
Equally significant is Dr. Smith’s commitment and implementation of a “Whole Person Care” approach to healthcare, which coordinates health, behavioral health and social services in a patient-centered manner for improved health outcomes and more efficient and effective use of resources.
“Jeff’s work has been particularly notable in the housing and healthcare arenas,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian. “And I have particularly appreciated his understanding of the fact that our organization has a duty to serve the entire county. I wish him well. It has been a tough, tough time to lead an organization of this size and complexity.”
Dr. Smith’s public service career began as a family practice doctor working for Contra Costa County’s health system, where he later became the Family Practice Residency Director and Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Smith’s leadership and expertise in healthcare has been widely credited with the County’s successful purchase of O’Connor Hospital, Saint Louise Regional Hospital, and the DePaul Health Center. When the struggling hospitals declared bankruptcy in 2018, Dr. Smith led the acquisition effort, resulting in expanded access to healthcare for all County residents and the preservation of more than 1,600 jobs.
“It was no small task, but we succeeded in turning the hospitals around,” said County Executive Dr. Smith, “They are now delivering better care, are more financially self-reliant and are serving a critical need in our community.”
With Dr. Smith at the helm, Santa Clara became the first county in the nation with an office exclusively dedicated to serving the LGBTQ community, and in April, the Children’s Advocacy Center celebrated its first year as a national model for serving young victims of abuse.
Notably, the County also led the nation by dealing with some of the first cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., building one of the most expansive pro-public health, evidence-driven responses to the pandemic. Dr. Smith provided critical support to the County’s Public Health Officer, who issued health orders that created a precedent followed by other communities worldwide, saving thousands, if not millions, of lives.
“Dr. Smith supported me and other public health leaders at the time we needed it most,” said Dr. Sara Cody. “His leadership and guidance throughout the pandemic were critical to our efforts to protect the community at every stage, including our work to ensure the most impacted communities in the county were at the center of our efforts.”
Dr. Smith led one of the largest and most successful mass vaccination campaigns in the country, ensuring that Santa Clara maintained an ample supply of vaccine for the entire county, had equitable allocation for more than 1.7 million doses and had enough available hospital beds for all COVID patients. He created a workforce to be agile, flexible and responsive to the changing demands of COVID-related services, putting in place a permanent Disaster Service Worker team to support vaccination efforts.
“I’m grateful to Dr. Smith for his leadership and the unique expertise he developed over his long career in public service and healthcare specifically,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. “Public service is obviously a deep calling for Dr. Smith and his work for our community has been tremendous.”
Despite the pandemic, wildfires, budget reductions and national social upheaval, the County under Dr. Smith’s leadership was a pillar of innovation and stability, successfully tackling challenges such as: the implementation of the American Care Act and expansion of care to a much larger swatch of our community; dramatic expansion of County-investment in housing for extremely low-income community members; and the successful dissolution of redevelopment agencies that had long diverted necessary funding away from schools and safety-net services.
“Dr. Smith understands working families and the unrelenting challenges they face every day,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “I appreciate Dr. Smith’s work with our Board to address real and immediate human needs including housing and homelessness.”
“For decades, Dr. Smith dedicated his numerous talents and time to public service, and fortunately 13 of those years were spent here in Santa Clara County,” said County Supervisor Otto Lee. “I am also grateful that he has provided the Board with the time needed to ensure a very smooth transition in leadership of the County organization.”
“It has been an honor to serve the community together with our 23,000 County employees who hold the fabric of society together,” said County Executive Dr. Smith. “But now I am ready to spend more time with my family.”