On Wednesday, Burson took the oath of office as the new chairman of the Carroll County Board of Health, but he made it clear that he wants it to be a role in which he can contribute to the county’s public health.
“I’m sort of in an interim capacity on this,” he said after the noon board meeting adjourned. “I’m off the Tanner board now, after 21 years, and I was looking around for something to do. I talked with (Tanner Health System president/CEO) Loy Howard about the possibility of serving on this board.”
Burson said he remembers the “turbulence” associated with past board of health meetings and he understands that the district director makes most of the decisions for the county board.
He said he has “a lot of respect” for Dr. Jack Birge, the previous board chairman, who resigned last August amid frustration with the county board’s lack of authority.
“He’s an iconic physician here in the community and has done great things,” Burson said. “Our approach may be a little different. I’m not quite as aggressive.
“We’re in almost an advisory capacity,” Burson said. “I’m looking at what the picture is here and see if there’s any way I can make a contribution. If I can, you know I’ll be glad to serve. If it’s going to be one of those situations where you ... just rubber stamp everything, I probably won’t continue for a long time.”
Burson said he understands that the board failed to have a quorum for the past two meetings and he wants to restore some continuity to its operation.
“I talked with Marty Smith (new Carroll County commission chairman and member of the board of health) and told him I would serve in an interim capacity,” he said.
Burson said the current interim district director, Dr. Alpha Fowler Bryan, is doing a good job, but he feels it’s too big a job for her to “look after the interests for eight or nine counties.”
“I think it’s time we had a little more independence on the county level, and it can be done,” he said. “I talked with Dr. (Brenda) Fitzgerald (Georgia Commissioner of Public Health) and she said she thought somewhere down the road that might be possible.”
Burson said he believes there’s lots of things that can be done to enhance the overall health of the county’s population and he thinks the health department can do a lot more.
“It’s distressing to see that in one month, we didn’t give a single flu shot in the (health) department here,” he said. “We’re paying for that now with all the flu going around.”
He contrasted the situation with Tanner Medical Center, which he said has been “very aggressive” toward providing free flu shots for as many people as possible. He said he’d like to see Tanner and the health department partner in such programs.
Burson said the health department can also do more for prenatal care, obesity, infectious disease and sexually transmitted diseases.
“I see all these things through a different light now,” he said. “I work at Grady (Memorial Hospital in Atlanta) three or four days a month and I see more of the indigent side of health than I did before. I see how preventive medicine can impact the health of our citizens. That’s what I’m really looking for, if there’s some way I can help improve the health of our citizens here.”
Burson currently has an ear, nose and throat medical practice in Villa Rica. In the past seven years, he has served four tours of duty as a retired military physician to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is planning a possible fifth tour in the summer.
“I don’t have anything definite yet, but I’ve been negotiating to go back for one more trip,” he said. “We’re pulling out of Afghanistan in 2014, so I don’t think there’s going to be a lot more opportunities.”
Burson said the service would be with an aviation battalion and he would again be participating in the “Boots on the Ground” volunteer program, serving 90 days to relieve a regular military physician so that doctor could return to the states to see his/her family.
“If you’re a retired physician and can meet all the physical standards, you can go over and serve a tour,” he said.
Burson previously served during the surge in Iraq, and on his last tour in Afghanistan, served with the Navy SEAL team that made the raid on Osama bin Laden.
Burson, a Carrollton native, received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering from Georgia Tech. He taught chemical engineering at Georgia Tech for several years before entering Emory University Medical School at age 37. After receiving his medical degree and specialization in otolaryngology, he returned to Carrollton in 1979 to set up a practice. He sold his practice in 2001 to his partner, Dr. Robert Pitts, and formed Chattahoochee Healthcare, LLC, in Villa Rica, a multi-specialty practice in orthopedics, general surgery, urology and otolaryngology.
He retired from the U.S. Army Reserve with the rank of lieutenant colonel.