Michigan Health Officer resigns, says felt she was "being terrorized".
The health officer for six counties in northern Michigan has resigned.
In late August, Health Department of Northwest Michigan Health Officer Lisa Peacock and the Medical Director Josh Meyerson looked at increasing COVID numbers with concern.
The Friday before many students were set to return to school, the health department decided to set up a mask mandate. Many community members were furious, and they showed up in force at the first board of health meeting in Charlevoix in September. Over 120 people showed up in person to that meeting.
Jenni Attie was one of them. She’s a family nurse practitioner in Petoskey, and she supported universal masking in schools. “We were just trying to show up but we were more than outnumbered. And I mean people were playing music like sheep sounds from their cell phones when people were trying to talk. It was very volatile,” she said. Attie left 2 hours in to pick up her kids from school and watched the zoom meeting which was hacked by people trying to create a disturbance. “Swearing and pornographic imaging. And it was just awful. I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said of the hackers.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan board of health is made up of commissioners of the counties in the region. That’s Charlevoix, Antrim, Emmet, and Otsego counties. Most of them criticized health officer Lisa Peacock for the mask mandate. During that September meeting, the board passed a resolution to block it, but since Peacock didn’t rescind her order, it had no legal weight.
Peacock felt tensions were so high she needed to be escorted by police from the building. “When people are in those board meetings and they are moving closer as they’re yelling at you and interrupting while you’re trying to present data and facts to the board of health. It’s all just very rattling. Those experiences are just hard to get out of your mind… and you just feel like you’re living under a… like you’re being terrorized,” she said. Soon after that, she took a medical leave.
Following the September meeting, two board members from Emmet County who had been critical of her resigned. But opposition to Peacock remained strong. Board members put forward a motion to fire her in November, but it failed. Then some members of the board tried to fire its attorney, because she was seen as sympathetic to Peacock. In January, Antrim County commissioners upset with the mask mandate voted to remove its own commissioner as the chair of the Board of Health because she had supported Peacock.
Charlie MacInnis is a member of the board of health from Emmet County. He came in after the two other commissioners resigned. MacInnis says he was shocked by the dysfunction. “It remains the singularly most unpleasant board experience that I’d ever had in my life. And I’m told that in many places anger has become the norm in public settings. And this one is right in there,” he said.
Despite efforts from her employer to sanction her, Peacock continued to show up to meetings, but her frustration with the board was growing. She suspected the chaos at the meeting in September was coordinated by some of the hostile board members. So she filed a complaint alleging they obstructed and tried to intimidate a health officer (that’s against the law in Michigan).
An investigation was opened locally and then referred to the Charlevoix Prosecutor’s Office. But in December, the office declined to authorize charges because they didn’t find any evidence of crimes. “What the investigating officer said to me was there was no doubt that behaved. But proving was difficult,” Peacock said.
Meanwhile, members of the community continue to be outspoken on both sides. Over 100 people in Emmet County paid to take out a full page ad in the Petoskey News-Review supporting the health department. Those opposed to the mandate kept showing up to board meetings and filed lawsuits against the health department. The most vocal opponents took to harassing Peacock. She says she got hundreds of Christmas cards with obscene language. And on Thanksgiving a police officer showed up at her door after someone in the community filed a false complaint against her.
Peacock says it wasn’t the public pressure that got to her, but the lack of support from her board; “I’ve been told I deserve the treatment that I got from the public.” She thought things would settle down after she dropped the mask mandate last week when COVID numbers had fallen. But next week the board plans to discuss cutting some of the funding that counties pay towards the health department. And that was the final straw for Peacock. Her resignation is effective April 29th.
Some in the community are disappointed about Peacock’s departure because of the programs she’s spearheaded. She brought behavioral psychiatrists into schools to address students’ mental health needs. According to Jenni Attie, “They did things up here they were way ahead of the curve. They were doing behavioral health services in schools to the point where they really need it now.” Attie says she’s not sure how the health department will be able to attract talent to fill Peacock’s shoes. “I just don’t know during times like this that we’ll find people like that right now. I’m sure they’re out there but who would want to subject themselves to this type of volatility?”
She says there’s one thing she can do, and that’s to use her vote to elect the people she wants to see on the board.