A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 people crowded into Building 8 at the county’s 470 Center St. office complex Aug. 25.
A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 people crowded into Building 8 at the county’s 470 Center St. office complex Aug. 25. A handful were there to support embattled Geauga County Health Commissioner Tom Quade. Many others waved anti-masking signs. Most were there to call for his resignation or termination over a series of politically-oriented postings on his personal Facebook page.
“Public health practice should always be free of political influence. This is why the health commissioner is not an elected or a politically-appointed person,” Quade said, reading from a written apology at the start of Geauga County Public Health’s Aug. 25 board meeting.
“When the appointed-members of the board of public health hired me, I accepted a variety of responsibilities, both professional and personal. I am writing to you today to apologize for a mistake I made with regard to one of those personal responsibilities; namely, posting politically-oriented content on my personal Facebook page.
“Although not against any agency rules or the law, my posts did result in negative attention that might have otherwise been avoided. I appreciate the people who brought this to my attention and I will do better. This was a mistake I own and while I cannot alter the past, I can assure you it will not be repeated moving forward.
“In addition to apologizing to the community as a whole, I want to specifically apologize to the members of the Geauga board of health and to my incredibly dedicated team for any negative impact my mistake had with regard to their hard work prior to and throughout this public health emergency. They have all been dealing with considerable stress over the past 18 months and I am distraught that my mistake has added to their stress.
“I want also to reassure everyone that the Geauga County Public Health team and the board of health have and will continue to operate in a manner that is not only free of political bias but that remains consistent with nationally established best practices. This assurance is supported by the news this week that Geauga Public Health has just successfully completed a multi-year process of achieving national accreditation. During this process, Geauga Public Health’s performance and operational capacity were measured against national standards and for the first time in its history Geauga County is being served by a nationally-accredited health department.
“I accept responsibility for, and I am greatly saddened, that my team’s incredible achievement in this regard might in any way be overshadowed as a result of my personal Facebook posts. I am hopeful the news of national accreditation will reassure the public, and the board of health, that they are being served appropriately.”
Board President Richard Piraino first addressed the crowd, also reading a prepared statement on behalf of the board, comprised of Piraino, David Gragg, Lynn Roman, Dr. Patricia Levan and Dr. Ashley Jones. The board is tasked with hiring the county health commissioner. Members are elected by the Health District Advisory Council (HDAC), which is comprised of township trustees and mayors of cities and villages.
“We are saddened by the events that transpired the past couple weeks. We have spoken to residents, commissioners and trustees. We find it very unfortunate that posts made to a personal social media page have insulted the public and affected the public perception of Geauga Public Health,” Piraino said. “While we cannot control what an individual posts on their own personal social media page, we can insure, to the best of our ability, that the mission and goals of the Geauga County Public Health department are held to the highest standard, free from partisan politics and available to all residents of Geauga County.”
He added, “The content of the post in question were not made by the Geauga County board of health and are not indicative or representative of the mission and goals of this department.”
Piraino went on to extoll GPH’s accomplishments over the past two years, including providing access to COVID vaccinations at an unprecedented level — more than 15,000 in the past seven months; being one of the first counties in Ohio to assure all school staff that they have an opportunity to be vaccinated; implementing fiscal controls that were not previously in place; expanding services to the underserved; and providing significant leadership in dealing with the pandemic and promoting public education regarding state and federal mandates.
He said GPH has exercised its authority judiciously regarding issues of mandates and order.
“No businesses were order closed during COVID, as a consequence of our ability to work with businesses to comply with state mandates,” he said.
In the end, those accomplishments under Quade’s watch weren’t enough, as the board — after listening to nearly two hours of public comment and meeting in executive session for over an hour — voted unanimously to terminate Quade’s employment, effective immediately.
Notably, a group of Amish were called into the executive session. Piraino said the purpose of the session was to discuss personnel. Later when asked why the Amish were invited in to the closed-door session, Piraino said they were called as “witnesses.” A source told the Geauga County Maple Leaf the Amish community has complained of Quade’s heavy-handed treatment of the Amish.
It was a stunning fall for Quade, a former Marion County health commissioner who has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. In May, he was named this year’s recipient of the Chardon Schools Superintendent’s Award and recipient of the Friend of the Chardon Education Association Award for his extraordinary service to the district.
And the board’s abrupt action did overshadow the announcement GPH had been awarded national accreditation status through the Public Health Accreditation Board. PHAB’s accreditation program, which receives support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sets standards against which the nation’s governmental public health departments can continuously improve the quality of their services and performance.
Quade’s Facebook posts — many of which were reposts from another accounts — covered topics such as livable wages, critical race theory, racism, masking and vaccinations.
In a post from August, Quade proposed requiring unvaccinated people who get COVID to pay for their medical treatment rather than insurance.
“Here’s an incentive idea for encouraging vaccination. If you get vaccinated, and get COVID, you pay nothing for your treatment medical costs,” he said. “If you’re not vaccinated (or don’t have a medical contraindication for getting vaccinated), your insurance pays NOTHING for your medical treatment. It’s a natural consequence of your decision.”
The post drew harsh criticism locally as well as from Ohio State Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-19), who commented on the post that Quade “should be fired.” Quade deleted Brenner’s comment. He later deleted the entire post.
Other posts remained on his page, but they, too, were later removed, including a repost of a cartoon showing a classroom full of children watching a screen with a child laying on a sacrificial table with two adults standing over him. One wide-eyed child is looking at a sign hanging on the classroom door that reads, “NO MASK MANDATES – YOUR MAGA GOVERNOR.” The teacher tells the students, “Class, today we’ll study people so callous that they sacrificed children to appease their God.”
Another repost showed a book inscribed with a faux title, “FREEDOM: How You Can Reject Modern Medicine and Die like a Medieval Peasant. By Rand Paul.”
Quade eventually deleted his Facebook page altogether, but not before calling his previous posts “ironical,” stating:
“So, this happened…I posted an ironical post about how one might incentivize vaccinations on this, my PERSONAL, FB page and some who don’t know me from Adam decided to assign their own assumptions about me and then share it with others. To be clear, and I know that all of you who actually know me already know, I am a strong proponent of universal healthcare. That means everyone and for every health issue. It is absurd that I would promote anything to the contrary. Such is a shortcoming of social media and the world full of people who believe they know everything. Clearly, to any who would bother to read our agency’s FB page, we are simply encouraging all who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated to speak with their healthcare provider in order to make a well-informed decision. Oy, people. Please take the time to truly understand what is going on before you go off.”
Critics claim, however, the GPC page similarly had been used by Quade to express his personal opinion and anecdotes to influence compliance with COVID rules and orders. They also claim under Quade’s watch GPH has deleted specific comments or restricted access in other ways on the basis of the viewpoints expressed.
Other detractors accused GPH of manipulating COVID data and failing to educate residents on vaccination alternatives, including the use of therapeutics. A few complained GPH is a unfriendly place to do business.
“You go over there, everybody is masked,” one person said. “They treat you like you are infected with the bubonic plague.”
Quade did not respond to two text message seeking comment.
Not everyone, however, felt Quade — who lives in Summit County — had lost the confidence of residents, was unable to perform his duties or had a personal animus toward Geaugans.
Chester Township Trustee Ken Radkte, who serves as chair of the HDAC, said while he did not agree with the vast majority of content posted to Quade’s Facebook page, he supports Quade’s constitutional right of free speech.
“I was a bit surprised that this conservative-leaning county was in such an uproar in regards to a person exercising the First Amendment free speech rights, including demands that Mr. Quade be terminated from his position as Geauga County health director,” Radtke said. “Some claim that Mr. Quade doesn’t represent our values. Specifically, what values are those? Conservatism? I didn’t know that was a requirement for a health director, must represent the major political view of people in a county in order to effective as affecting public health.”
Radtke questioned whether Quade was being judged solely on the basis of his political speech rather than his job performance.
“Rather than reacting to public pressure from some, I would ask the board of health to identify what really matters and judge him on that criteria,” he said.
One resident expressed dismay at the recent attacks levied against public officials, both elected and appointed, throughout the county.
“I am used to thinking of Americans as resilient, charitable, generous people,” she said. “We are known for our respect for law and respect of institutions as democratic processes. We’re also known for banding together when under attack to fight a common enemy. We are known for leaving no soldier behind. Today, our common enemy is the pandemic.”
She mentioned the scores of American who have died due to COVID and those who have suffered serious, lifelong complications. She praised the scientists and doctors who have studied the disease and advanced treatment options.
“Now is not the time to be attacking the heroes who work in those fields. They are our frontline in this battle,” the woman said.
Former Geauga County Board of Elections Director Catherine Whitright, who served on the GPH board when it hired Quade in January 2019, said she came to support Quade and GPH.
“I appreciate you very much,” Whitright said. “I feel his expertise has been wonderful.”
She also said she appreciated the work Quade and his staff have done to respond to the COVID pandemic.
“It was something pretty amazing to see,” she said. “When this (pandemic) came on, nobody knew what was going to happen, and it has been handled magnificently.”
Piraino, a realtor with Howard Hanna, did not respond to two phone calls and a text message seeking comment.
According to county sources, no one currently is at the helm of GPH although board members have reached out to their counterparts in Lake County about shared services until an interim commissioner is named.