The health department ‘listening sessions’ offer residents the chance to provide input

The health department ‘listening sessions’ offer residents the chance to provide input
A large audience attended the Health Department of Northwest Michigan's Board of Health meeting on May 2.

A large audience attended the Health Department of Northwest Michigan’s Board of Health meeting on May 2.

CHARLEVOIX — Citizens at a recent public input meeting sponsored by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan conveyed their frustration at the dysfunction of the department’s current board of health.

As the Health Department of Northwest Michigan sees a spike in public comments in the wake of recent board of health meetings, staff members have put together a series of “listening sessions” designed to give residents of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties a safe space to convey their opinions and provide feedback.

At one of the meetings on May 3 held at the Charlevoix Public Library, several of the participants spoke about “the very divisive political rhetoric that has landed in the health department” that has created an atmosphere of distrust and even fear for the department staff’s physical safety.

“The people who work there are being threatened. I was hoping that had all settled down,” said one participant, referring to tense exchanges regarding school mask mandates during the height of the pandemic.

Many referenced the most recent board meeting on May 2, in which, despite a large turnout, the meeting was adjourned before any discussion or public comment when the board failed to approve the agenda.

more: Northwest Michigan board of health meeting grinds to halt over agenda approval

The large turnout and dissolution of the meeting were the result of board members’ agreement over a grant that would have funded training for school food service directors and staff on the use of local produce in public school cafeterias.

At the May 3 listening session, attendees were unanimously dismayed by the actions of some of the board members who had opposed the school food grant for reasons they felt were “politically motivated,” with a few suggesting certain commissioners on the board should be subjected to a recall.

Many praised the health department staff and the importance of its programs and services.

“I have been continually impressed with the quality of leadership at the health department and with the high quality of staff and the manner in which the staff conducts themselves,” said Chip Hansen, listening session participant and former Charlevoix County Community Foundation President and East Jordan Superintendent.

When asked about what he felt was most concerning regarding health department operations, Hansen replied, “I became concerned with the division in our nation for the last five or six years and honestly, I am terrified.”

“I feel like we elect people today who are good at patting themselves on the back and pointing the finger of blame at other people and are less apt to work together to find common ground and move our communities forward in a positive way,” he said .

The board of health consists of two elected county commissioners from Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

“I think the health department is in an incredibly difficult situation with a board of health that is clearly divided and might be at least for some of those members intent on neutering the health department and making it less effective when in fact we should be demanding as a citizenry a high performing health department — that is what we need and that is what we deserve,” said Hansen.

Many attendees were of the opinion that the board of health members should not undermine the health care decisions made by their professional staff and were afraid that decisions were being made without adequate information on the board’s part.

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Hosted by Dr. Kari Krantz, one in-person session and one virtual session is being held in each of the four counties. Information gathered from these sessions will be shared with officials at the health department, according to Krantz.

Pre-registration is required for each of the sessions.

According to Janenne Pung, public information officer and community outreach coordinator for the health department, the media has requested not to take photographs or video during these meetings to allow the public an opportunity to speak as freely as possible.

Remaining Round 1 in-person listening sessions will take place from 6-7:30 pm at the following locations:

Round 2 virtual listening sessions will take place from 12-1:30 pm for the following residents:

  • May 17 – Emmet County residents

  • May 18 – Charlevoix County residents

  • May 24 – Antrim County residents

  • May 25 – Otsego County residents

— Contact reporter Annie Doyle at (231)675-0099 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter, @adoylenews.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Health department ‘listening sessions’ offer residents a chance to provide input

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