Amy Jordan Fitzgerald gives a speech

Pandemic Leaders Forced Out

Pandemic Leaders Forced Out

On March 22, 2020, Dr. Amy Acton, MD, MPH issued the first of multiple “stay-at-home” orders, restricting Ohioans from travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This came after a three-week-long state-wide K-12 school closure, a prohibition of mass gatherings, and most notably, a previous Department of Health order to shut down polling stations and delay a primary election. 

Fast-forward to now: we’ve become accustomed to our upside-down world. Masks, social distancing, vaccines, and rapid testing have helped us find our ‘new normal.’ Still, the pandemic has impacted every industry: from meatpacking to groceries, blue-collar to white-collar jobs, and everything in between. But the one field that COVID-19 has arguably impacted most? Public health. 

Specifically, women in public health have faced incredible obstacles throughout the pandemic. In addition to all the barriers working women encounter in the office, women in public health have uniquely public-facing careers that mark the intersection of healthcare, scientific research, and public policy. This leaves them vulnerable to criticism from all fronts, including the general public, who, in today’s world of scientific misinformation and social media trolling, are increasingly hostile to public health leaders in the wake of the pandemic. 

Dr. Acton, the now-former director of the Ohio Department of Health and the first woman to hold the position, was known for her daily public briefings about COVID-19. She spoke alongside Governor Mike DeWine, who consistently yielded to her in determining the most effective, science-based public health policy practices. She was applauded for her clarity, consistency, and compassion by many Ohioans, transcending the political divisions surrounding the pandemic. 

But not everyone loved Acton. 

Far-right conservative Ohio residents who opposed mask mandates, social distancing, and “stay-at-home” orders — even at the direction of a Republican governor — attacked Acton for her department’s policies. People brought guns and sexist and anti-Semitic signs to sit outside her home, and Ohio Rep. Nino Vitale even posted anti-Semitic slurs against Acton on Facebook, calling her a “dictator.” Acton, who is Jewish, eventually stepped down from directing the Ohio Department of Health in June, three months into the pandemic. 

She is not the only one: female public health leaders across the country have reported an uptick in violent threats in response to their work during the pandemic. From Connecticut to California, women in high-level state positions have been asked to resign or been forced to do so to protect their families from increasingly frequent threats. 

Women in leadership positions, regardless of their fields, face obstacles in proving their credibility and, in public-facing positions, face criticism from social media on not only their actions but also their appearances. These discrepancies in how women are viewed in the workplace, and how they must work harder to prove

themselves to colleagues, have been noted by many past podcast guests and speakers on The Women’s Network. 

The sad fact is that so many female healthcare leaders are leaving their positions because of the political divisions and threats they face every day. 

After Dr. Acton resigned from her position, she was promptly replaced by a man. So was Dr. Nichole Quick, chief health officer of Orange County, California, and Emily Brown, director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department. Amidst the politicized nature of this public health crisis, female public servants, who sacrificed so much and saved countless lives, are now being forced out. 

Sources: lth-official-to-be-dewines-chief-health-adviser ronavirus/story?id=71520262 o-misogyny/ year/story?id=74359358 os-amy-acton-inspires-admiration-and-a-backlash-with-tough-coronavirus-response/202 0/05/17/fa00cd1c-96d4-11ea-82b4-c8db161ff6e5_story.html