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Health officer resigns, citing pushback on COVID guidelines

| September 28, 2021 7:00 AM

HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — The public health officer in a small northern Montana county is resigning because of the "constant negativity, pushback, disregard and lack of support" that health officials have faced throughout the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

Blaine County public health nurse Jana McPherson-Hauser said her resignation would take effect Oct. 15, KOJM-AM reported. The county's health board accepted her resignation Wednesday.

McPherson-Hauer said recent legislation that limited the power of public health departments to enforce guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 contributed to her decision, along with constantly having to defend public health measures such as masking and vaccinations.

"Unfortunately, the politicization of the current pandemic has had a detrimental effect on my beloved profession of public health," McPherson-Hauser wrote in her resignation letter.

She said the pushback included actions to undermine, question and constantly challenge established public health measures.

The Legislature passed legislation that prevented her from doing her job the way she has for years and gave members of the public permission to dismiss her office and its recommendations, McPherson-Hauser said.

"Personally, I do not fit in a system where I constantly must defend evidence-based best practices to those they are designed to protect," she wrote.

Montana's Legislature also passed the nation's only law banning employers from requiring vaccines as a condition of employment. Medical providers filed a complaint in federal court Wednesday challenging that law.

McPherson-Hauser joined at least 17 other public health officers in Montana who have resigned, been fired or retired since the beginning of the pandemic, including State Medical Officer Greg Holzman. He announced his resignation in February, a day after Gov. Greg Gianforte said he would be lifting a statewide mask mandate, and left the post in April.

Last week, Sanders County health officer Nick Lawyer resigned amid an organized effort by residents who oppose vaccines and other public health guidelines and after a man blamed county health policies for his wife's death from COVID-19. The health board has no say in medical treatment.

Butte-Silver Bow County health officer Karen Sullivan announced this week that she was going to retire Nov. 19 after eight years in the post, The Montana Standard reported.

"This work has been challenging and invigorating, but with the COVID-19 event, it has also become very fatiguing," Sullivan said. "First off, I intend to rest."