New study sheds light on harassment against local health officials
Harassment against local health officials was widespread during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH).
Beth Resnick, Assistant Dean for Public Health Practice at JHSPH and senior author of the study, said harassment is ongoing across the country, in “all different departments, all different communities,” regardless of region or political affiliation.
She said the study should be a “wakeup call.”
“This is not acceptable,” Resnick said. “People should not be feeling threatened or devalued for doing their job, or protecting the health and safety of the public.”
The study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, spans from March 2020 to January 2021.
Researchers conducted a survey where they sought responses from all of the country’s local health departments. Of the 583 departments that responded, 57% indicated they were targets of harassment. Across those departments, there were 1,499 unique cases of harassment.
More than half of the respondents said they experienced harassment on social media, much of which was directed at leaders of local health departments.
In Maryland, local health departments have seen increased turnover over the past two years, with seven health officers resigning or being terminated from their positions. Former officers have cited harassment from the public and lack of support from the Maryland Department of Health as reasons for their departure.
Resnick said it’s time to consider the mental well-being of public health workers as a “core public health function” in the long run.
“It’s going to be really important to consider the mental health safety and protection of our workforce as we consider how to go forward and make sure that we're better prepared for our next crisis,” Resnick said.
Maryland lawmakers are considering bills to protect health care workers, one of which would make it illegal to threaten a public health official.