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Gov. DeWine says he 'respects' Dr. Joan Duwve's decision to turn down Ohio health director position

The governor also denied concerns about possible harassment will prevent him from hiring a qualified candidate.

CEDARVILLE, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health went through a bit of a whirlwind period last week when Dr. Joan Duwve accepted an offer to become the state's new health director, only to reverse course and withdraw just hours later.

In a statement issued Friday, Duwve cited concerns for her family's safety as the main culprit for her change of heart. She claimed she was unaware of the verbal abuse and harassment endured by the previous director, Dr. Amy Acton.

"While I have dedicated my life to improving public health, my first commitment is to my family," she wrote. "I am a public figure. My family is off limits."

Gov. Mike DeWine addressed the matter Tuesday during his bi-weekly coronavirus press conference. He claimed Duwve was informed of what happened with Acton before she initially took the job, but added he believes her concerns are real and "respects" her decision to step away.

"I take people at face value," he said. "Sometimes, you don't fully grasp things until you kind of get into something...but I'm only speculating. We were open with her."

Acton had won praise for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but faced severe criticism from conservatives regarding her recommendations such as the "stay-at-home" order and the wider use of face masks (most of which were later mandated at the direction of DeWine). She became the target of several baseless and even anti-Semitic attacks from lawmakers (notably State Sen. Andrew Brenner and Rep. Nino Vitale), and armed protesters even showed up outside her Columbus area home.

Acton resigned as health director in June and briefly served as an advisor to DeWine before leaving the administration altogether last month, and while she did not say it specifically it was widely believed she was tiring of the abuse she and her family were receiving. Given what has now occurred with Duwve, some fear the state will have trouble finding a permanent director because of those reasons, but DeWine says he's confident he'll find a great candidate.

"I don't recall having anyone else express to me that they had a concern about not serving because of that reason," DeWine said, although he did admit others had told him they "weren't interested" for unspecified reasons. "If the question is 'Can we find...a very good person to serve as health director?' the answer, certainly, is yes.

Lance Himes was appointed interim health director upon Acton's resignation, and will continue to serve in that role until a permanent successor is named. In addition, Medical Director Dr. Mark Hurst decided to retire around the time Acton left, and Dr. Mary Kate Francis remains in that role temporarily while DeWine tries to fill that position as well.

Duwve had resigned as South Carolina's Director of Public Health to take the job in her home state of Ohio, but is now unemployed by both departments.