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Northwest Michigan health officer resigns, citing "hostile work environment"

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
Lisa Peacock, the health officer of two Northern Michigan health districts, says she will resign after facing "retaliation" for rules "aimed at protecting children, school staff, and the general public" from COVID-19.

Lisa Peacock, health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan HDNW, announced Tuesday that she is stepping down, effective April 29, 2022.

Peacock's resignation letter said her decision is "completely due to the hostile work environment" created by some of the department's Board of Health members.

The health department covers Emmet, Charlevoix, Otsego, and Antrim counties. Its eight-member Board of Health is comprised of two county commissioners appointed by each of the four counties' respective County Board of Commissions. Peacock is also stepping down as health officer for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

Peacock wrote that she had intended to work for several more years — at least until she qualified for retirement. She said she had developed a firm succession plan, but that key members of her leadership team "have now resigned amid the stress of the current environment — grave and unfortunate casualties of the reckless political agendas of some Board of Health members."

Peacock's decision comes after months of bitter fighting in her region over the K-12 school mask mandate she authorized last August. Peacock lifted the mandate last week, citing the availability of vaccinations for school-age children and declining numbers of COVID cases.

Peacock said it was impossible for her to lead and support her staff "in the face of ongoing efforts by the Board of Health to damage this strong health department and me as its leader."

"I am most disappointed in the recent retaliation I have endured for the issuance of a public health order aimed at protecting children, school staff, and the general public," wrote Peacock.

"I am extremely disheartened by the board members who have questioned my integrity and intentions and have even expressed their belief that I deserve the abuse I have received," Peacock wrote. "The public attacks and campaign of humiliation at public meetings is something that I no longer have the strength to endure, and no reasonable professional would, either."

Last fall, Peacock's tenure survived a failed attempt by some members of the Board to fire her over her mask mandate.

In early October, Peacock filed a complaint with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel accusing some board members of using intimidation tactics to get her to rescind her mask order and of allowing threatening behavior in public meetings.

Charlie MacInnis, one of Emmet County's two commissioners serving on the Northwest Michigan Board of Health, said Peacock has done a spectacular job protecting public health.

"Her letter [of resignation] very accurately captures the environment in which she is finding herself," MacInnis said. "I am distressed — to say the least — at what she has had to endure."

The board president declined to comment on a personnel matter. The six other board members did not reply to a request for comment.

Norm Hess is executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, an association of the 45 local health departments in Michigan. He said Peacock is a dedicated public health official, and he thinks it's sad that she is stepping down.

"I am very concerned for the public health workforce going forward," said Hess. "People at all levels of these organizations have been subjected to abuse."

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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