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Public Health Officials In Southern Oregon and Northern California Among Those Who Left During The Pandemic

Former Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich was among those public health officials who resigned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frankovich left her position in September to attend to family issues.

Nearly 200 public health officials across the country have resigned, retired or been fired from their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press.

The tally of at least 181 departed health officials in 38 states includes several in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

When the coronavirus pandemic touched down in Shasta County last spring, Brandy Isola had been in her job as the county Public Health Director for about six months. She quickly learned it was more than she had signed up for.

“I mean it was just 24/7 thinking about it, problem solving, trying to get staff, trying to figure out your next move, lots of media attention, lots of angry people at board meetings not liking what you’re doing, and just a tremendous amount of stress,” Isola says.

Since then, Isola’s former colleague, Shasta County Health Officer Karen Ramstrom, has reportedly received personal threats and, as a result, had police patrol her home for safety.

Other local officials left for retirement or family. In September, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich announced her resignation to attend to family issues. At the time, she said what was supposed to be a part-time job had grown to be more than full-time because of the pandemic.

The public health administrator of Coos County was also replaced in May. Officials with Coos County Health and Wellness said the departure of former Public Health Administrator Florence Pourtal-Stevens was not related to the pandemic, but they declined to give further explanation of why she left.

The Kaiser Health News and AP investigation tallied seven state and local public health officials who left their jobs in Oregon and 17 in California since April 1.

Isola, who now works at a federally qualified health center in Shasta County, says she has nothing but admiration and awe for her past colleagues still doing public health work in the face of vitriol and hostility from the politicization of the pandemic.

“I think it just weeded out those who weren’t 125% committed to public health and their community and who could stand the job, to be honest,” Isola says.

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.