County health officer resigns citing lack of support
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Flathead County’s interim public health officer is resigning at the end of the year, saying she’s frustrated with the lack of support from county officials for any efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Tamalee St. James Robinson submitted her letter of resignation Friday to the county commission and the Flathead City-County Board of Health, saying its clear the actions of the commissioners and the health board “have been at cross purposes with the goal of maintaining our county’s public health.”
The lack of support for measures such as wearing masks and limiting the size of gatherings “has not only increased public health risk, it has demonstrated a clear lack of support for the county health department,” St. James Robinson wrote.
Numerous employees have resigned, leaving the agency understaffed as it deals with a spike in COVID-19 cases, she said.
“The staff are the ones who have taken the brunt of this,” St. James Robinson told the Flathead Beacon. “It’s just been really frustrating to be in this position where I can’t really put in any mitigation to stop the numbers, to slow them down, with no real support from anywhere else.”
County commissioners in early November also rejected a request for overtime pay going forward for salaried health department employees who had been working 80-hour weeks since the start of the pandemic and would never be able to use up that much compensatory time, Deputy Health Officer Kerry Nuckles said at the time.
Commissioner Randy Brodehl suggested health department workers ask the county attorney’s office if paying them overtime would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Commissioners had voted in July not to allow salaried employees additional time to use their comp time, Nuckles said.
St. James Robinson, who has worked in public health for more than 30 years, said nothing has approached the politicization of the last few months, especially when it comes to wearing masks. She said she doesn’t think her resignation will make a difference in the action of commissioners or health board members.
“The members on the board who have voted against mitigation strategies, I don’t think anything will change their minds,” St. James Robinson told the Beacon. “They don’t see safeguarding the community’s health the way I do. I see it purely from a medical standpoint.”
The Board of Health typically has nine members, but St. James Robinson resigned as board chair when she was appointed as interim health officer in July. She will not be returning to her seat on the board, she said.