Berrien County Health Department sees director and communications manager resign amid health crises

NOW: Berrien County Health Department sees director and communications manager resign amid health crises


BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- After all the anti-mask protests, and even a lawsuit, two top leaders at the Berrien County Health Department are calling it quits: Interim Director Courtney Davis and Director of Communications Gillian Conrad are suddenly resigning. 

In a statement issued by the Health Department, Davis blamed pandemic politics, saying: “I make this decision with many emotions…However, with the politicization of public health during the pandemic, I can no longer effectively do my job and serve the community with its health and safety always at the forefront.”

After Davis took over this summer, residents who opposed the Health Department's mask mandate for Berrien County Schools actively called for Davis to be fired by the county's Board of Commissioners-- some even filing a lawsuit against her and the Health Department because of it. 

Communications Manager Gillian Conrad, the public spokesperson for the department, echoing the frustration: saying: “The exhaustive work of the past 19 months has taken a significant toll on my mental, emotional and physical health. For the sake of my own health and the health of my family, I need to step away.”

This comes just weeks after Elkhart County's own health officer, Dr. Bethany Wait, submitted her resignation-- effective at the end of the year because of similar stress, and criticisms related to pandemic precautions designed to protect everyone from COVID.

But the departures in Berrien County come right as the city of Benton Harbor is dealing with a water crisis, handing out bottled water and trying to replace thousands of old, lead pipes. 

“The pandemic was one thing, and now we’re dealing with a water crisis," said Ashley Gee, a Benton Harbor resident volunteering to hand out water. "It’s like double-on-double.”

The city, now on its eleventh day of emergency water distribution-- with nearly 40,000 cases handed out already. 

John Henry, who came out to get water, said “I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I’m gonna get all the water I can.”

Others expressed concern, saying the Health Department needs a firm hand on the wheel to help Benton Harbor deal with both the lead and COVID crises. 

“Step up," demanded Gee. "We’re in a crisis. We just need someone to step up, to step in, someone to give order and to organize everything, to get everything going like it needs to go. Like, as normal as possible.”

The county is currently working to find replacements for Davis and Conrad when they leave on November 3 and October 29, respectively. Once they leave, there will be fifteen vacancies in the department- nearly 20% of their workforce.

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