‘Politicization of public health’ causes two health department leaders to resign

Published 11:31 am Monday, October 18, 2021

BENTON HARBOR — Two longtime officials representing the Berrien County Health Department resigned last week, the health department confirmed Monday.

Acting Health Officer Courtney Davis and Communications Manager Gillian Conrad gave two weeks’ notice last week, citing politicization of public health as reasons for their departure.

On Sept. 29, the Berrien County Health Department was forced to rescind a mandate it had instated requiring masks in school buildings, or else risk losing funding from the state. The department put the mandate into effect on Sept. 1 in an attempt to mitigate another peak in coronavirus cases.

“I make this decision with many emotions – serving the residents of Berrien County for nearly five years and supporting local public health infrastructure have been among my greatest honors,” Davis said Monday. “However, with the politicization of public health during the pandemic, I can no longer effectively do my job and serve the community with its health and safety always at the forefront.”

Conrad shared similar sentiments.

“It has been a privilege and honor to serve the residents of Berrien County, and I am incredibly proud of all the countless ways our department has contributed to improving the health of our community,” she said. “What our team accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing less than extraordinary; however, the exhaustive work of the past 19 months has taken a significant toll on my mental, emotional and physical health. For the sake of my own health and the health of my family, I need to step away.”

Both Conrad and Davis said they would help however they could to aid in a smooth transition to their replacements. Davis’ last day will be Nov. 3, and Conrad’s will be Oct. 29.

“I am forever proud of the Health Department team and am dedicated to helping support a smooth transition to new interim leadership,” Davis said. “The partnerships and friendships I have formed in our community will always be important to me. Building healthy and equitable communities remains my driving passion, and I look forward to continuing to invest in Michigan’s public health infrastructure in new ways.”

Berrien County officials said they have begun the process to search for the two longtime employees’ replacements.

“We appreciate and value the contributions of Courtney Davis and Gillian Conrad especially during this very difficult time, as well as their commitment to our community,” said R. McKinley Elliott, chairman of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners. “We wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”

While stepping away from the health department, Conrad remained steadfast in her passion for public health, which has been evident through her team’s leadership throughout the pandemic.

“While I am moving on from the health department, I remain dedicated to public health with a personal commitment to uphold science, strive for social justice and create an equitable community for everyone living in Berrien County,” she said.