Amy Acton resigns role as Ohio Department of Health director

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (center) walks with Health Director Dr. Amy Acton (right) and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (left) after Wednesday's press conference at the Statehouse. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/STAFF
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (center) walks with Health Director Dr. Amy Acton (right) and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (left) after Wednesday's press conference at the Statehouse. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/STAFF

A central figure in Ohio’s response to the coronavirus pandemic unexpectedly resigned Thursday.

Dr. Amy Acton — admired by many for her plain talk at press conferences and mocked by others for her orders closing down parts the state’s economy — is stepping down from her role as director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Acton told him she felt it was her time to leave.

>> Dayton region has highest coronavirus spread rate in Ohio, new numbers show

However, she will continue to serve Ohio as the governor’s chief health adviser.

“Let me say how very grateful I am for Dr. Acton’s selfless and tireless service to the people of Ohio as our Department of Health director,” DeWine said.

DeWine praised her “knowledge, compassion and determination,” and her “extraordinary bedside manner.”

Not everyone was as kind.

Like other conservatives, State Rep. Nino Vitale, an Urbana Republican, had opposed moves by DeWine and Acton to shut down the Ohio economy during the pandemic. In a Facebook post, Vitale delighted in Acton’s resignation.

“I am hearing she is still on the taxpayer dime but Actin’ Acton has resigned as health director. I say NOT good enough! 1 down, 2 to go of the Terrible Tyrannical Trio!” he wrote.

Acton received praise from Democrats on Thursday, including Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

“Dr. Acton’s decisive action surely saved thousands of lives, all while enduring threats and intimidation from armed protesters and their allies in the legislature,” Whaley tweeted. “Thank you, Dr. Acton - we should all aspire to lead like you.”

>> Coronavirus: Who is Dr. Amy Acton, leader of Ohio’s pandemic response?

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a tweet, “Few have been as wise, brave, and compassionate throughout this pandemic than Ohio’s own Dr. Amy Acton.”

In her new role, Acton will advise on health issues, including the coronavirus, and address the health and well-being of all Ohioans.

Acton thanked DeWine for giving her the opportunity to serve Ohio.

DeWine called Acton’s counsel “superb” throughout the pandemic and said her advice and connections with other doctors led Ohio through the first few weeks safely.

“I will always believe and know that many lives were saved because of her wise advice,” he said.

DeWine announced Acton as health director on Feb. 26, 2019.

“With her leadership and help, in the first year, we focused on infant mortality, home visiting for at-risk, first-time moms, lead paint, youth homelessness, suicide prevention and the modernization of our public health system,” he said.

Explore>> DeWine & Amy: The popular pair have a theme song and video, thanks to Ohio animator

Acton said her resignation would allow her to spend more time with her family.

Protesters, some armed, have picketed outside her house. Some conservative lawmakers also sought to take away health order powers from Acton, who said: “A lot of that was not my focus.”

She acknowledged the last few months had taken a personal toll but thought the easing of the pandemic made this the right time to resign.

Lance Himes will serve as the interim health director, a role he has held in the past.

DeWine also announced Ohio is expanding coronavirus testing to anyone in the state who wants to be tested. Initially, testing was prioritized and restricted due to limited swabs and testing materials.

DeWine encouraged anyone who wants a test to talk to their health care provider or to contact a testing site to arrange a time to be tested.