Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health director
Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health director (Office of Gov. DeWine)

Amy Acton Stepping Down As Ohio Health Department Director

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOSU) — Dr. Amy Acton is stepping down from her position as director of the Ohio Department of Health, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.

DeWine said Acton will remain on as his Chief Health Advisor, focusing on the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Acton’s extraordinary bedside manner and wise counsel have helped us all get through this pandemic,” DeWine said at a press conference Thursday.

Acton thanked DeWine for appointing her, and talked about some “long and hard days” in the job.

“Get up at 4 so I have time to read and catch up, and go to bed way, way, way late into the night,” Acton said. “So it’s something that I’ve known wasn’t a sustainable thing given a pandemic.”

Acton was the last person appointed to DeWine’s cabinet, and the first woman chosen to lead the Department of Health.

“No one that I’ve ever met has more passion for helping people, has more passion for public health than Dr. Amy Acton,” DeWine said. “She’s always put the health of Ohioans first.”

Acton praised how Ohioans responded to state policies intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, saying “books will be written about this” pandemic.

“Ohioans, you have saved lives. You’ve done this,” Acton said. “And it is my honor to continue to work on this alongside of you and to witness what you have done already.”

But as the state enters a new phase of reopening, Acton said it was a natural time for her to transition out of her role.

“We’ve sort of gone through one phase and we’re pretty much opening up. And now we’re looking at a different phase in the pandemic of learning to live with it,” she said. “So I think there is a natural sort of shift that is occurring here that makes it sort of a good time so that I can refocus.”

A "yarn bomber" created a sign for Acton Road in Clintonville that says "Dr Amy."
A “yarn bomber” created a sign for Acton Road in Clintonville that says “Dr Amy.” [Credit Ryan Hitchcock | WOSU]
From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Acton stood front and center, becoming a daily fixture during DeWine’s televised briefings. As Ohio became an early leader in its pandemic response, Acton won praise for her convincing communication skills, and even inspired online fan clubs, songs and more.

At the same time, she’s drawn criticism and lawsuits from some residents and Republican lawmakers, who objected to her stay-at-home order closing restaurants, hair salons, retailers and other businesses. The Ohio House passed a bill that would restrict the power of Acton’s public health orders, with one representative calling her a “dictator.”

When those criticisms escalated into anti-Semitic rhetoric – Acton is Jewish – and protests outside her home, Acton began receiving a security detail. On Thursday, Acton extended her appreciation to members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol for providing her security.

Speaking about the blowback she’s received, Acton said “you’d be surprised by how much a lot of that isn’t your focus. For me, my focus, the need to protect Ohioans and save lives was so intense, especially during this first phase. I can honestly say that, it honestly had to be a single-point meditation on the task at hand.”

Throughout it all, DeWine has stood by Acton and defended their actions.

“I’m the elected official,” DeWine said after protesters targeted her home. “When you don’t like the policy, again, demonstrate against me. That is certainly fair game. But to bother the family of Dr. Acton, I don’t think that’s fair game.”

Health Department general counsel Lance Himes, who has previously served as interim director of the department, will take Acton’s place.

This story will be updated with more information.