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Why have hundreds of public health officials resigned or been fired during the pandemic?


By Dartunorro Clark - NBC News Lee Norman, Kansas' chief health officer, was blunt in his public assessments of the Kansas pandemic.

By Dartunorro Clark -

NBC News

Lee Norman, Kansas' chief health officer, was blunt in his public assessments of the coronavirus pandemic.

He ran daily reports with harsh COVID-19 warnings that often put him at odds with the GOP-controlled state legislature, which recently stripped Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly of her ability to impose statewide restrictions.

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But last month, when lawmakers were about to weaken Kelly's emergency powers, Norman resigned as head of the Department of Health and Environment.

He later told the Kansas News Service that the governor, who appointed him to head the agency, had asked him to resign.

Like Norman, hundreds of state and local health officials across the country have withdrawn, resigned or been forced to resign amid political and partisan storms to stem the pandemic, experts say.

"I think I was not promoting their cause, but the public health," he said in a telephone interview, referring to both Republicans in the state and Kelly.

"It may have been a slaughtered lamb, but I have no way of knowing for sure."

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Kelly's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Lori Tremmel Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told our sister network NBC News that more than 500 public health officials have been expelled or left their jobs since the onset of the pandemic. .

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"For us, seeing this level of turnover is really tough, tough on the community and tough on our response to the pandemic," Freeman said.

“We don't have many people in the queue to fill the positions because they are difficult.

And, of course, the more we talk about them being a target, with threats and intimidation and other things, the less attractive those positions sound, "he said.

Beyond the partisan attacks, some officials said security concerns led them to resign.

In Missouri, the director of the Franklin County Health Department resigned this week, citing threats directed at her and her family.

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"The daily verbal assaults, threats of violence and even death threats directed at the department, my family, and myself personally for following the orders ordered of me, are not only unbearable, they are unacceptable," wrote Angie Hitson in your letter of resignation.

"Resigning was not an easy decision for me, rather it was a decision that I felt I had to make for my own safety and well-being."

Nichole Quick, the chief of health for Orange County, California, resigned in June 2020 after protesters showed an edited photo of her with a Hitler mustache and swastikas.

Another critic read the official's address aloud at a public meeting.

Quick had been behind the county's first mask mandate, issued weeks earlier.

Other officials, in states such as Montana, New York, Oklahoma and Texas, have said they have left their jobs due to persistent threats and a lack of support from legislators or other government leaders.

In a national survey of some 26,000 people who work in public health at the state, tribal, and local levels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that approximately 12 % of respondents said they had received work-related threats since the beginning of the pandemic;

almost 25% said they felt intimidated, threatened or harassed because of their work.

Additionally, more than 13,000 workers told the CDC that they had suffered from at least one serious mental health problem, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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The exodus of public health officials is causing experts like Freeman to worry about the country's ability to respond to the highly communicable omicronic variant, which is putting further strain on the nation's healthcare system.

"Our public health personnel have lost more than 20% of their workers in the last decade due to underinvestment, so these losses are in addition to losses on the ground," Freeman explained.

"And as we step into the omicron and hear more and more about the severity of the transmission, we are concerned about the ability of our local health departments to continue to respond."

Robert Wood of Newton, Kansas, protests in front of the state capitol building demanding that businesses be allowed to open, that people can work and that life return to normal on April 23, 2020 in Topeka, Kansas.Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Still, some advocates say the pandemic has provided an opportunity for officials to reconnect with their communities and teach people their role.

"We have to make sure people understand what we do and how we protect them," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a telephone interview.

At the same time, "Anyone who thinks that we are suddenly going to wake up in two months and that things are going to be the way they were two years ago is fooling themselves."

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For some public health officials, the reaction to your recommendations on COVID-19 can be disconcerting.

Lisa Macon, local health director for Granville and Vance counties in North Carolina, said that while "we are used to having a good dialogue across political lines most of the time" in a state with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, "is still really a challenge."

"It's hard to understand how people are against things that are meant to make people safe and save lives and keep people out of the hospital and prevent illness and death," said Macon, who is also president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

"It's hard for me to understand, apart from the fact that we know we have political and cultural wars at the moment."

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-01-01

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