At a media availability today following the announcement of her intent to resign as Humboldt County’s health officer, Teresa Frankovich said she intends to stay in the role until the Board of Supervisors finds a full-time replacement.
“My intent is to be part of this response ongoing,” she said, adding that she plans to stay on in a part-time role even after a permanent replacement is found.
Frankovich, who was hired to step in as Humboldt’s health officer in January, said her decision to step down was a personal one and hinged on the “more than full-time” demands of a job she started in a part-time capacity and her need to make good on some promises made to her family.
“I’m 60, my husband is 70, I have an aging parent and there are things I need to do that are really difficult to do when you’re working more than full-time in a position like responding to COVID,” she said.
Frankovich said flatly that neither pressure from local officials nor public backlash — some of which was on display at yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors meeting, where a pair of people launched into personal attacks during public comment — played into her decision.
“Certainly, it is not pleasant to listen to that nature of comments and, I think, I certainly am supportive of civil discourse and we have not always had that,” she said. “However, no bully at a meeting is going to make me leave this position. It really is a decision that’s based on family need and looking at the projected term of this event.”
In a letter announcing her resignation, Frankovich explained that the demands of the job are simply too much for her to commit to long term and, that being the case, it makes sense for the county to transition to another health officer now, while conditions are relatively stable.
“COVID-19 response, in some form, is likely to be needed throughout much of 2021,” she wrote. “As I am unable to continue in this full-time position for that duration, it makes sense to plan for a replacement at a time when we are in a fairly stable position and not in the middle of a surge.”
Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said he was caught by surprise when Frankovich called to inform him of her decision today shortly before she shared it with the Board of Supervisors.
“But I understand the position she’s in and the amount of pressure and stress it has put on her,” he said. “It’s a tremendous amount of pressure to put on any one person.”
Honsal, who said he never met Frankovich prior to the county confirming its first COVID-19 case back in February, said her stepping down from the post represents a great loss for Humboldt County, as he’s grown to respect her tremendously as the two have worked together with few breaks over the past six months. But he stressed that he and other local officials will work hard to make sure the Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center keep meeting the county’s needs.
In an email to the Journal, Open Door Community Health Centers CEO Tory Starr said he believes Frankovich has done an "excellent job" managing the local Public Health response to the pandemic, both in planning and coordinating with the local health care community and in public messaging.
"I think she has been a clear, calm and reassuring public communicator," Starr said. "She naturally projects competence and empathy. She took over the position at a critical time and has done terrific work in helping prepare and manage the county's response to the pandemic. I think it will be challenging to find a replacement for her."
Starr continued to say he will be "delighted" to welcome her back to Open Door as a pediatrician — a role she had to step away from to devote all of her time to Public Health.
Watch Frankovich’s full media availability today, which begins with her reading a letter to local residents, below and check back for ongoing coverage of this major development in Humboldt County’s COVID-19 response. And for more on Frankovich's background, read past Journal coverage here.