Grand County Public Health Director tenders resignation

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by Marissa Lorenz
Grand County Public Health Director Brene Belew-LaDue tendered her letter of resignation during the BOCC’s regular weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday morning.

Belew-LaDue, who has served Grand County for 17 years, indicated January 15 as her last day and stated that it was a choice she was making. “I am choosing my health, mental health, and my family.”

Grand County Public Health and Director Belew-LaDue have faced criticism and attacks, both in public and on social media, in regard to recommendations and actions since the beginning of the global COVID-19 crisis. However, she referred to a longer-standing discord within local government, stating, “Last year in October 2019, I realized that my values and mission in life and our public health mission did not align with the goals of the current BOCC.”

Belew-LaDue cited a number of statements made on October 7, 2019, during public hearings on the 2020 Public Health department’s budget, including, “The only thing we have to do as a county is have one public health director;” “As far as an emergency, we could look for federal monies and emergency funds;” and “We could call in reserves rather than have [full-time employees] all the time.”

“These quotes,” she explained, “were in reference to a questioning of the need for all the public health staff, the need to continue our vaccine program in order to be prepared for an epidemic or pandemic, and the BOCC solutions for how these types of issues could be handled in the future.”

All this just months before the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic and in the year of
the East Troublesome Fire.

The Director acknowledged that the Board of County Commissioners/Board of Health had supported the financial decisions of Public Health in 2020, but continued, saying, “Until recently the BOCC has not favored the public health prevention methods that we have supported nor the state nor the nation. The fact is, Grand County Public Health’s prevention measures have always been in alignment
with the state and the nation.”

“I am proud of the accomplishments and the services that Grand County Public Health, Home Care, and Senior Services have provided to the community,” Belew-LaDue concluded. “The health of the community has always been my first priority. This decision is difficult for me especially during such a time of great need. It makes me sad to leave behind all the professionals I’ve worked with over the years.”

She closed by recognizing and thanking her staff and colleagues, including Abbie Baker, Deputy Director of Public Health; the Headwaters Incident Management Team, which has led Grand County’s COVID-19 response in conjunction with Public Health; and Grand County Medical Director Darcy Selenke.

Following a moment of uncertain silence, Commissioners each recognized and thanked Belew-LaDue for her years of service to Grand County, which included her leadership through outbreaks of pertussis, influenza, hepatitis A, and tuberculosis; three community health assessments; and the creation of the ACHES & PAINS programs, which provide health care vouchers for uninsured children and adults.

“From the bottom of my heart,” said Commissioner Rich Cimino, “thank you for 17 years. Thank you for all of your service. Grand County is better because of you.”

“I appreciate the 17 years and all your dedication and service to the county,” echoed Commissioner Merrit Linke. “I know it’s been very difficult times, and there are times when we don’t always agree. But I appreciate your service to Grand County. Thank you.” “Brene, you’ve been here a long time and through a lot of managers and commissioners,” stated Board Chair Kristen Manguso, “and I want to thank you.”

Manguso went on to express an apology, referencing particularly aggressive social media attacks that took place over the past weekend after Public Health put out a press release about the Board of Health’s Thursday night decision to implement a number of Red-phase COVID restrictions, in an attempt to maintain local control and prevent the State from forcing a county-wide Red phase mandate.

“I was made aware this weekend of personal attacks made toward you. I am very sorry that happened,” continued Manguso, her voice cracking. “There is never a reason for a community to personally attack any county employee for doing their job. I am really, really sorry that that happened to you. It was wrong. That should never happen.”

The Board indicated that they would take some time to discuss and make a decision on the next steps toward hiring a new Director of Public Health.