Amidst her usual public health update, Jones County Public Health Director Jenna Lovaas told the Jones County Board of Supervisors during their Aug. 17 meeting that the week of Aug. 22 would be her last full week in the position.
Lovaas has offered to provide some assistance to the Board of Health and provide 8-10 hours of work remotely. That work would largely focus on budget and grant management and helping find her replacement. The department’s intern, Kaci Ginn, finished in her role and will be focusing on her graduate studies at the University of Iowa.
When discussing why she decided to step away, Lovaas cited the impact being in the public health field in Iowa had on her.
“It’s hard to fully explain what this past year and a half has been like in public health. Damaging. Exhausting. Frustrating. The never-ending work weeks with what feels like no one advocating for our mental or physical health,” she said. “Being expected to do more and more, way above and beyond what is reasonable for over a year. Feeling completely unsupported by the state.
“It has consumed my life, and I still dread hearing my phone ring or seeing a text pop up on the screen. I barely managed to take a few hours off to celebrate my kid’s first birthday last year in the midst of our worst surge in cases.”
Despite her decision to step down, she said she still believes in the mission of public health departments and was glad to be a resource for the public. Lovaas said she and her coworkers have received a lot of positive feedback from those that were appreciative of their work and that was greatly appreciated.
However, even with the extra assistance hired for the department throughout the last 15 months, the department was still understaffed. The result was a lot of exhaustion.
“And I am tired. I am tired of skewed logic, conspiracy theories, fake news and political rhetoric. I am tired of providing recommendations only to have them ignored,” Lovaas said.
When the summer came, Lovaas started to feel better about where things were and got some time to decompress. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long as the Delta variant arrived, and cases began to rise again.
“At that point, I knew I could not do another round of those never-ending work weeks. Of constant phone calls, text messages and emails at all times of the day and night,” she said. “I couldn’t do that to myself or my kids. I’m not missing these next birthdays because I’m too stressed or preoccupied with work. I want to feel like myself again.”
As she steps away, Lovaas is proud of what she’s accomplished with the county.
“I have loved Jones County and will miss all the wonderful people I have worked with over the past six years. I am proud of what we have built as Jones County Public Health, and I hope the Board of Health and Board of Supervisors ensure the department has the resources it needs to continue to serve the county residents in the best way possible,” she said.
As Lovaas exits her role, there’s only one thanks she needs.
“If you want to thank me (or any other public health professional) for their service, just go get vaccinated. And wear a mask. So, we can finally end this.”