In the wake of Commissioner Janet Rowland’s recent coup over the Mesa County Public Health Department, if the the past is a predictor of future behavior, under Rowland the Health Department is likely in for a significant reduction in its ability to respond to public health threats, and area residents will likely face more danger from emerging health threats.
First, consider the makeup of the new Rowland Board of Public Health:
Rowland had herself appointed to the Board of Health even though she has no experience in public health or any related field.
Rowland’s college degree is in Biblical literature with a minor in “counseling ministries.” The extent to which Rowland allows her behavior as an elected official to be guided by religion was on display in her past terms as County Commissioner, for example when she used her elected office to insert her personal Christian religious practices into County government, even though it was against the law. She also expressed alarming religious views in 2006, when she equated homosexuality with bestiality on the state-wide PBS TV show “Colorado State of Mind” while running for lieutenant governor. Rowland’s inserting her own extreme religious views into public policies and procedures presents a threat to public health, since scientific and medical conclusions are based on reasoning derived from direct observation, while for people guided by religion, no proof is required to arrive at conclusions or hold certain beliefs.
In early 2020, amid the pandemic and during her county commissioner campaign, Rowland displayed animosity towards public health by using her social media accounts to spread InfoWars conspiracy theories and misinformation about Covid-19.
Rowland has now populated her new Board of Health with fellow conspiracy theorists, deeply religious people, and people of questionable competence whose decisions as Board members are likely to pose similar threats to public health:
- Stephen D. Daniel, chair of Rowland’s new Public Health Board, is an anti-vaccine, anti-gay, anti-immigrant extremist who supports Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for president. RFK Jr. believes the Covid-19 virus was engineered so that Chinese people and Jews would be immune to it. He believes mass shootings are linked to prescription drugs, that the Covid-19 virus was genetically engineered to attack certain ethnic groups and spare others. He believes that former chief medical advisor to
the president, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates exaggerated the pandemic to promote vaccines, and he believes the lie that vaccines are linked to autism. RFKJr believes wifi causes cancer and a “leaky brain,” blames school shootings on anti-depressants and believes Alex Jones’ assertion that chemicals in water are turning kids transgender.
- Rowland BOH appointee obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Michael White, equated Covid vaccinations to rape.
- Appointee Mona Highline, a dear friend of Rowland’s, is also deeply religious and represents herself as a “licensed minister” on Facebook even though in Colorado there is no such thing as a “licensed minister.”
- BOH appointee Trish Weber ran for House District 55 in 2022, and said during her campaign that she believed government is “out of control” and that children in public schools were being “indoctrinated.” She told the Daily Sentinel she was “concerned” about Colorado’s 2022 Reproductive Health Equity Act, which
guarantees access to reproductive care and affirms the rights of pregnant women to continue or terminate a pregnancy as they see fit. The Act also prohibits public entities from restricting or denying those rights.
- BOH Appointee John Sheehan is the CEO of MindSprings psychiatric hospital and held the position when the state of Colorado ordered MindSprings to hire an outside management company to oversee its operations because of “system failures,” “repeat deficiencies” and problems with “patient care and safety.”
- The one token appointee who seems to be a better fit on a Board of Health is Marguerite Tuthill, also known as Marguerite Prinster Tuthill. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Health and is a relative of Joseph Prinster, the founder of City Market.
What could the new Board of Health do under Rowland’s guidance?
Since onset of the pandemic, Republicans have been limiting the emergency powers of health departments across the country.
Montana enacted legislation that gutted the ability of public health authorities to enforce even the most basic public health rules. It prohibits public health authorities from quarantining people who have been exposed to communicable diseases like Covid, measles or smallpox. North Dakota banned state health authorities from requiring face coverings for any reason, a measure that could increase the spread of deadly communicable diseases like tuberculosis or polio. Florida’s governor suspended all Covid emergency orders amid the pandemic in May of 2021. Kansas removed (pdf) the governor’s ability to close businesses during a public health emergency, and the list goes on.
— Republicans were far less likely during the pandemic to view Covid as a threat to public health;
–Tens of thousands of conservatives died unnecessarily because they believed lies about the Covid 19 vaccine;
–Republican stances against vaccines are currently resulting in resurgences of communicable diseases like Polio and Measles;
–Republican-led States have been passing laws to restrict the ability of public health to respond to emergency health threats.
“After the anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supported the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, which granted public health officials even more expansive powers to declare a health emergency and respond swiftly. But all that ended with COVID-19, as state legislatures and courts gutted this authority. The next pandemic could be far deadlier than COVID-19, but when the public looks to federal and state governments to protect them, they may find that health officials have their hands tied behind their backs.” — Fix the Backlash Against Public Health, PubMed, e-published article March 30, 2023.
— In July of 2022, a Republican senator blocked the federal Right to Contraception Act after 195 House Republicans voted against. it.
— Bans on contraceptives may be next. In 2021, Missouri Republicans tried to ban funding for intrauterine devices and emergency contraception.
— Attacks and harassment of public health officials increased during the pandemic, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Public health workers were demeaned and demoralized, received death threats, had armed protesters show up at their personal residences, and endured doxxing, harassing phone calls and vandalism. Health workers went from being viewed as trusted neighbors to being seen as bossy villains, and were harassed ridiculed, questioned for decisions based on science.
— Johns Hopkins reported harassment of public health officials was widespread at the start of the pandemic, with local and state public health officials resigning.
— The American Medical Association decried an increase in violence against physicians during the pandemic.
— The result of these changes and attitudes are staff drain, with hard-to-replace, skilled and knowledgeable public health employees resigning in high numbers.
Watch not just for these kinds of problems, but also for the micromanaging of the Mesa County Public Health Department by Janet Rowland.
The health department and the people of Mesa County are likely in for a lot tougher times ahead with Janet Rowland and her friends at the helm.