The search continues for a new state health director, DeWine says

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen during a COVID-19 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy OhioChannel)

Gov. Mike DeWine acknowledges that whoever takes over as state health director may face a torrent of criticism just as Dr. Amy Acton did earlier this year.

That’s not a challenge unique to Ohio, the governor also said, vowing the state would continue searching for a permanent replacement to lead the department of health.

DeWine faced his own scrutiny about the hiring process from reporters at Tuesday’s press conference, the first held since the governor saw his appointed replacement step aside within hours of the hire being made public.

The governor announced on Sept. 10 that Dr. Joan Duwve, an Ohio native, would soon take over as the new state health director. Duwve had been serving as director of public health in South Carolina.

That evening, DeWine later said, he learned that Duwve planned to withdraw from consideration, citing “personal reasons.” 

In a statement reported by the Associated Press, Duwve said she had learned about harassment faced by Acton and her family only after having accepted the position. In learning about that, she described making the quick decision to step aside.

Acton was the target of protests held outside her house in Franklin County, with some of the criticism leveled against her fueled by anti-Semitism

“My family is off limits. I withdrew my name from consideration to protect my family from similar treatment,” Duwve said in her statement.

On Tuesday, DeWine contended that he and members of his team had in fact discussed the Acton harassment issue with Duwve prior to the appointment. 

Nevertheless, the governor said his office has moved on and will continue searching for a replacement. The Ohio Department of Health has been led by interim director Lance Himes since the day Acton resigned on June 11. For a time, Acton remained employed as a chief health advisor to DeWine before leaving government entirely in early August.

Dr. Amy Acton addresses reporters at a news conference earlier this year. Capital Journal photo by Jake Zuckerman

There are currently two open leadership positions: for state health director (heading the department of health) and for state medical director.

DeWine said he did not want Ohioans to be worried about the delays in securing a permanent replacement to those posts. He said the department has many other hardworking professionals, and that the Ohio government continues to seek advice and resources from health experts throughout the state.

Does Ohio’s difficulty in finding a replacement reflect poorly on the state? No, said DeWine. 

“I don’t think Ohio’s unique,” he said, referencing public protests against health officials elsewhere in America during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know these are issues that can be divisive,” he continued. “I’ve tried to do everything I can so that we are not divided as a state, because I think we need to be together and fight this battle together.

“I know we’re getting tired,” he later said, “but we have to continue to rally. We have to continue to fight this.”

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.