The following is a letter-to-the-editor, submitted by Medie Parrott of Ukiah, a nurse practitioner, published here as opinion. The opinions expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mendocino Voice. If you would like to submit a letter-to-the-editor feel free to write to [email protected].
In general, no news is good news when it comes to public health, like the water from our taps that we don’t really think about much unless it tastes funny or stops running. As with a big ship or any other large system, there has been enough momentum built up that we have not yet felt the reverberations of the firing of the Mendocino County Public Health Director, Barbara Howe, two weeks ago, nor the subsequent resignation of the County Health Office, Dr. Gary Pace, in solidarity with her. There was no reason given for her termination, and no replacement director waiting in the wings to replace Barbara after this hasty and arbitrary decision was made. In fact, there is no one there at all. Other staff, who themselves are already taxed from their own burgeoning workload in a perpetually understaffed department, are expected to “fill in.” This decapitation is only the latest morale hit to staff who have not had a competent public health leader for over a decade before Barbara. And the manner in which she was terminated, giving her fifteen minutes to gather her belongings, was designed to stifle disagreement and suppress diversity of opinion among the ranks.
Would a potential measles outbreak in Mendocino County reveal just how important an experienced public health director is in a crisis? And what if we had a fire this season? What about the multiple existing crises, like extremely high rates of drug overdose, suicide, and child abuse that she has been tackling since she first came to Mendocino 18 months ago? She has eliminated redundant services and improved the department’s capacity to meet the medical needs of citizens in a shelter during a fire; she has pre-deployed air scrubbers to inland schools to protect the health of kids with asthma; and she has made sure that at-risk folks experiencing homelessness got the hepatitis A vaccine. She and Dr. Pace have worked with the Sheriff to bring medical treatment for substance use to county inmates while in the jail, thereby reducing recidivism for drug crimes. Her other achievements include pursuing national public health accreditation, bringing modern epidemiologic surveillance programs here so that Public Health staff can monitor local emergency room data in real time, and committing Public Health financial resources to the county’s Community Health Improvement Plan (www.healthymendocino.org).
All this in 18 short months.
Her staff, as well as community partners, like me, are outraged and alarmed about her termination. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I have been able to rely on Barbara and her staff to support new parents who needed a little guidance in caring for their newborns. Thankfully, we never hear about these families because, after all, no news is good news.
Please join me in petitioning for Barbara Howe’s reinstatement as Public Health Director in Mendocino County. I invite you to register your disapproval to the Board of Supervisors by emailing all 5 of them with this address: [email protected] or calling 707-463-4221. Thank you for your attention and advocacy.
Medie Jesena Parrott
Pediatric nurse practitioner in Ukiah