COLDWATER, Mich. — The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency Board of Health meeting was adjourned abruptly Thursday morning after some of the people in attendance refused to submit to COVID screedings and wear face shields.
The agency’s attorney "advised that we provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who have a medical exemption and cannot wear a face mask, which is what our agency policy is, to allow them to attend the open meeting today. So, the medical director and I conferred on reasonable accommodations and put them in place,” Health Officer Rebecca Burns said.
Those accommodations included wearing a face shield, a temperature check and staying socially distanced while in the building.
“When presented with the accommodations that we have put in place for individuals that cannot wear a face mask and have a medical exemption, those accommodations were refused, and those individuals made their way back into the meeting room,” she said.
The meeting was posted to start at 9 a.m. It was adjourned at 9:15 p.m. with no discussion of items on the agenda, which included two Freedom of Information Act appeals regarding the agency's handling of the pandemic, as well as Burns's contract.
“We’re dealing with a situation where the public was putting the individuals that work and seek services at the health department at risk and these individuals refused to follow the accommodations that have been put in place to ensure safety in the building,” Burns said.
The public was not happy how it played out.
Hillsdale County Resident Reverend Dennis Wayne Scott said it was a violation of their rights.
“As far as I’m concerned, this was a horrific meeting today not allowing the people here that came to stand up for their rights that we have, that God gave us right to be able to speak, our forefathers gave us rights to be able to speak,” he said.
“I was disgusted. I couldn’t believe they’re actually over here trying to play games. I felt like they were playing games. That’s all this was to me,” Hillsdale Resident Karla Adams said.
Burns said she understands not everyone will agree with public health orders but that it’s her job to protect the people’s health.
“We’re doing the best we can given the environment that we have and working every day to provide protections to our county residents which includes recommendations on isolation and quarantine, immunization clinics to provide vaccinations to everyone that qualifies and continuing to provide factual, scientific information about needs to be done and what people can do to take action,” she said.
Health agency administrators intend to reconvene the meeting. A time and day has not been determined.
When asked if the agency will do anything different to handle the public in the future, they said they are determining next steps.
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