Dr. Amy Acton to Step Down as Director of Ohio Department of Health

Suzanne Goldsmith
Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton at a coronavirus news conference Saturday, March 14, 2020 at the Ohio Statehouse. Behind her is Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (left) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced today that Dr. Amy Acton will step down as director of the Ohio Department of Health. Acton has played a key role in guiding Ohio through the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, appearing alongside the governor during daily press conferences and signing each new order outlining guidelines for combating the pandemic. Throughout the crisis, she has drawn praise, and also been a lightning rod for criticism from those who disagree with her orders.

A profile in the May issue of Columbus Monthly called her “Ohio’s coronavirus superhero in a lab coat,” a sentiment Gov. DeWine echoed in a tweet today. “It’s true, not all heroes wear capes,” he wrote. “Some of them wear a white coat embossed with the name Dr. Amy Acton.”

DeWine said that Lance Himes will assume the role of interim director of the health department, and that Acton will continue to serve as his chief health advisor. “In her new role, she will take a comprehensive and holistic approach to address health and well-being for all Ohioans. In addition to advising on health issues, she will continue to focus on the #COVID19 crisis, while remaining committed to the vision of @Ohdeptofhealth,” he tweeted. “Her knowledge, compassion, and determination have set an example for all of us, and Dr. Acton’s extraordinary bedside manner and wise counsel have helped us all get through this pandemic.”

Asked at today’s press conference about the reasons for her departure, Acton said that the state is at an inflection point where a transition is natural.

“We’re entering a new phase. We’ve sort of gone through one phase, 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. … I wouldn’t see it as leaving, but just sort of shaping how I can best be of service.”

She said she looks forward to her new role. “One of the things I’m looking forward to in this new position—you know I came from philanthropy—is to get out there and talk to people. There are stories that need told and need heard. ... One of the things I’ve learned at the hands of this governor is that he’s a huge listener … and sometimes when you’re in a role, it makes that a little harder to do. So one of the things I look forward to is digging deeper and having better conversations, more nuanced conversations.”

Acton, who is widely admired but has also faced harsh criticism, with protesters picketing outside her Bexley home, acknowledged that she has faced pressure in her role but has been happy to serve. She spoke of late nights and early mornings. “It’s something I’ve known wasn’t sustainable,” she said. “Certainly those are a lot of pressures. I’m sorry that anyone in elective office faces this; it’s quite a thing that they go through. But for people who want to serve, it’s something they do for all of us, and I think we should all feel very grateful for their leadership.”