Yates County Public Heath Director resigns in protest

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express
Annmarie Flanagan

PENN YAN – Yates County Public Health Director Annmarie Flanagan has resigned her position just eight months after taking it up, citing the intractable opposition she faced  from some county legislators and members of the public in the agency's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to a request from The Chronicle-Express, Fannagan replied:

"Thank you for your inquiry regarding my resignation from the role of Yates County Director of Public Health. The decision to leave was not one made quickly or taken lightly. In fact, I agonized over the decision for many months.

"The role as Director comes with many responsibilities, and the COVID pandemic added many extra layers of those responsibilities. Mainly to roll out a vaccination plan that would assure that most of our county be vaccinated against COVID 19, ensure screening and surveillance measures were in place, and ongoing educational efforts.

"Never in any scenario of life did I ever think that the pandemic and vaccination efforts would be such a central focus of a political firestorm. As a nurse practitioner I take an oath to 'Do No Harm.' Plans that were being put in place as directives from the New York State Health Department and CDC were under continuous scrutiny.

"There was continuous push back to not follow the guidelines of the state and the CDC. Besides being a Director of Public Health, I am also a registered nurse and family nurse practitioner. 'Do No Harm' is a critical piece of being a healthcare provider, one that I believe should not stop because I was a Director of Public Health. Yet everyday this was challenged. While I understand that everyone has a right to free speech and their opinions, those very voices became the central focus of the pandemic, and not stopping the spread of a disease. I set in place many transition plans to ensure the outstanding staff of Yates County Public Health would be able to continue the work needed to bring resolution to this pandemic.

"No one questions more than me if I made the right decisions. Morally and ethically, I could not remain in a position where I could not implement the initiatives needed to restore health to the pre-pandemic level -- so that the work of health promotion and prevention would be able to return as the central focus of the health department. I will continue to support and advocate for the work of Public Health as a resident of this county, and through my work as a nurse practitioner."

Best health,

Annmarie Flanagan

Flannagan's resignation takes effect Oct. 31, but she has been using her accrued vacation time in the weeks prior. In the meantime, Deputy Public Health Director Sara Christensen has been performing the duties of the position. Flannagan was offered and has accepted a teaching position in the Nurse Practitioner program at SUNY Binghamton.

This latest departure is part of a nationwide exodus of medical professionals from the approximately 3,000 county public health agencies. Recent reports are more than 500 top health officials have left their jobs in the past 19 months, most citing the same reasons Flannagan has.

Flannagan was unanimously appointed as the Director of Public Health for Schuyler and Yates counties at the March 8 meeting of the Yates County Legislature, following the retirement of the former Director of Public Health, Deb Minor, who served in the Yates County Department of Public Health for 31 years; the last 12 years as the director, and in her last two years, as the director for both Yates and Schuyler counties.

Deb Minor

Flanagan is a Yates County native and brought over 30 years of healthcare experience with her. She started her career as a registered nurse, and then later obtained a master’s degree in nursing education, a post master’s degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner, and her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from St. John Fisher College.

“Yates County is fortunate to have Annmarie accept the position for Director of Public Health,” said County Administrator Winona Flynn. “She is more than capable of taking on the role to promote optimal health for all people in our community with integrity, compassion, and commitment to excellence.”

At the time of her appointment, Flannagan said, “I am honored to be appointed for the Director of Public Health role and I am eager to work with the outstanding staff in both counties. My main focus is to vaccinate as many Schuyler and Yates County residents as possible, to be able to reach herd immunity, and for all of us to return to our daily lives without restrictions. I look forward to moving past this pandemic so both departments can return to our full focus of health prevention and promotion.”  

The Director of Public Health position is a shared position between Schuyler and Yates counties and in accordance with Public Health Law, carries a six-year term.