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Michigan News

Two top Berrien County health officials resign due to politicization, mental toll during pandemic

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Screenshot captured via Facebook
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Berrien County Health Department Acting Health Officer Courtney Davis has resigned, saying in a statement that she can “no longer effectively do her job” due to the “politicization of public health” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Department communications manager Gillian Conrad also resigned.

Previously the deputy health officer, Davis took over as acting health officer in July after Nicki Britten resigned to take a job at Spectrum Health Lakeland.

But Davis put in her resignation, effective Nov. 3, late last week.

In a statement, she said the decision was made with “many emotions.”

“Serving the residents of Berrien County for nearly five years and supporting local public health infrastructure have been among my greatest honors,” Davis said in the statement. “However, with the politicization of public health during the pandemic, I can no longer effectively do my job and serve the community with its health and safety always at the forefront.”

Davis said she is “forever proud” of the health department team and is dedicated to supporting a “smooth transition” to interim leadership.

The health department was forced to rescind its school mask mandate late last month under the threat of losing funding due to provisions in Michigan’s 2022 budget.

Gov. Whitmer said those provisions are unconstitutional, called the language unenforceable and said that local health departments won’t lose funding.

But she did not veto the language, and several Michigan counties, including Berrien, rescinded mask orders anyway due to a lack of a court decision upholding Whitmer’s position or a formal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel reassuring local governments that they won’t be punished for upholding health orders.

Communications manager Gillian Conrad, whose resignation is effective Oct. 29, said in a statement that it’s been a “privilege and honor” to serve the residents of Berrien County, but that the past 19 months have taken a “significant toll” on her mental and physical health.

“For the sake of my own health and the health of my family, I need to step away,” Conrad said in a statement. “While I am moving on from the Health Department, I remain dedicated to public health with a personal commitment to uphold science, strive for social justice and create an equitable community for everyone living in Berrien County.”

The resignations come amid a nationwide mass exodus of public health officials. Locally, Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait announced she would step down in December.

Her announcement came weeks after the Elkhart County Council unanimously blocked the department from applying for a federal grant to hire health education workers for outreach to minority communities over concerns that the grant application included a line requiring the health department to assist the Centers for Disease Control in tracking and quarantining COVID-19 cases. 

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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