It’s been a weird pandemic. From day one of the response, I was asked to manage several very young and very bright public health workers for several jobs. Later on, I was promoted to managing other public health workers. Through it all, I’ve tried to follow one rule: Always be on the side of my people.
One thing that I have not tolerated is any kind of abuse of the people I manage, internal or external. For example, early in the response, someone who had traveled to an area with COVID-19 was asked to stay home in quarantine on the chance that they picked up the virus and brought it back with them. Part of the deal was that they signed a quarantine agreement to stay home, check for symptoms and notify us immediately if they did develop symptoms. One person send the agreement back by email, changing the title of the document to something like “giving_up_my_rights.pdf,” or some such.
They thought it was funny, but I didn’t. On top of all the other abuse from people who don’t like the government telling them what to do, this person took it one step further. So I had a chat with them. In fact, I’ve had many chats with many people since this whole thing started, and few of them have been non-confrontational.
The worst one yet came this week when a “concerned citizen” asked for clarification on some numbers we were reported. As it turns out, they didn’t want clarification. The call ended up being over 45 minutes long, and this person did nothing but launch one accusation after another… Even suggesting that I was “peddling” to President Trump.
By now, you’ve probably heard of all the public health officials (many of them women and/or people of color) who have resigned or made to quit, or fired, because of the political divisions that exist in this country with regards to the pandemic. I get it. I would not want to be in the position that so many of them have been put into when all they were doing was their job of protecting the public’s health.
What bothers me the most is that their bosses, the people who should have been on their side, did nothing to stand in the way of the abuse that the people on their team were taking. That’s not leadership nor management… That’s just dereliction of duty. Lucky for me, my bosses are very supportive, and I’m about 78% sure that they would step in and help me if I were to be harassed like others have across the country.
The thing is… There are many other situations in which people I care about are harassed and abused, and there is little that I can do to stop it. Some people have to fight their own battles, learn from them and become good “warriors” for the battles yet to come. Still, I wish that I could do more because — to be honest — there is a lot of injustice in the world that needs correcting.
For now, we keep moving along in the pandemic, taking all the hits and keeping keeping on.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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