Dr. Amy Acton Steps Down as ODH Director

COLUMBUS, Ohio — During his Thursday briefing, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that Dr. Amy Acton would be stepping down as director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Acton will stay on as DeWine’s chief adviser for health issues, the governor said. In that role, she will continue to serve Ohioans and help him “in a very meaningful way,” he said.

“When I was elected governor, I knew that I wanted to pick someone to head the health department who had a real passion for public health. Someone who had a public health background,” he said. “And someone who had the ability to talk to the people of the state of Ohio in a candid way about health issues.”

On Feb. 26, 2019, DeWine interviewed a number of people for the director job and announced Amy Acton, a Youngstown native, accepted the position. In that first year, Acton and the DeWine administration focused on a number of public health issues, including lead paint poisoning, infant mortality, suicide prevention, youth homelessness and “the modernization of our public health system,” he said.

When the coronavirus appeared in China, DeWine and Acton started their discussions about Ohio’s response.

“Her wise advice and counsel, and her relationships with other doctors, other experts around the country and around the world have truly been invaluable. And they have helped us get through this.” he said. “While the decisions were always mine, her counsel has been superb. And I will always believe and know that many, many lives have been saved because of the advice that I received from her and from the great work that she did.”

Acton thanked the governor, his administration and others she has worked with, including her colleagues at the Ohio Department of Health.

“This was not a job that I ever saw in my life, and when I got that call to serve my hope was to really create a space for the health and well being of all Ohioans,” Acton said during the briefing.

A visibly emotional Acton commented on her work as the ODH’s director during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Books will be written about this,” Acton said. “And I just feel the deep honor of serving alongside this governor and will continue to do all I can.

“Ohioans, you have saved lives,” she continued. “You’ve done this. And it is my honor to continue to work on this alongside of you and to witness what you have done already, what you are doing right now to get back into our lives and do so as safely as you can, and I look forward to witnessing what you are going to do next. Because we do have this journey together, it’s challenges, but I see incredible opportunities.”

Former interim director of the Ohio Department of Health, Lance Himes, will step in as interim director again.

The announcement comes after a contentious few months as Acton became the target of frustrations during the coronavirus pandemic that included gun-carrying critics showing up at her home.

Acton was most recently sued by organizers of music festivals and restaurant owners as the slow reopening unfolded.

Acton, who called her time as the state health director an “honor of a lifetime,” faced House Republicans seeking to restrict her authority last month due as frustrations grew over aggressive stay-at-home orders.

The governor has defended Acton, saying his fellow Republicans should be focused on increasing coronavirus testing, dealing with a $775 million budget deficit and reopening the economy.

“It’s true not all heroes wear capes,” said DeWine, a Republican who has won praise for his handling of the disease in Ohio. “Some of them do, in fact, wear a white coat, and this particular hero’s white coat is embossed with the name Dr. Amy Acton.”

Running the department, handling the pandemic and advising the governor were three different jobs, Acton said, and she wanted to devote her efforts to one area.

She also said she hopes to take a few days off to spend with her family.

In a press release, the Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper released a statement in response to Acton’s resignation.

“We are all grateful for the leadership shown by Dr. Amy Acton during the coronavirus crisis and her unmatched strength and determination in protecting the health and well-being of Ohioans. Dr. Acton rose above the petty partisan politics that so often dominates Columbus, and she did it with uncommon grace, humility and professionalism. She became the epitome of a public servant and leader and a role model to so many. Her decision to step down is Ohio’s loss. She has saved countless lives,” he stated.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, issued the following statement.

“I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Dr. Acton for her dedication and service to the citizens of Ohio,” he said in a release. “As our state grapples with the biggest public health crisis of our lifetime, we were blessed to have your unprecedented leadership at the Ohio Department of Health. As we continue to fight this pandemic, we will miss your medical knowledge, empathy, and wise advice.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.