Greenfield health director resigns over abuse from public

After three years in the role, Greenfield Health Director Jennifer Hoffman is resigning from her position.

After three years in the role, Greenfield Health Director Jennifer Hoffman is resigning from her position. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 10-11-2023 5:32 PM

GREENFIELD — After three years in the role, Health Director Jennifer Hoffman is resigning from her position, citing the “emotional toll” of constant scrutiny, harassment and verbal abuse from the public. Her last day will be Oct. 20.

“I am incredibly saddened by Director Hoffman’s resignation,” Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said Tuesday afternoon in an announcement about Hoffman’s decision. “Her work for the city has been so valuable in building an effective and professional Health Department that works daily to support public health and inspections. She and her staff have provided consistent public health protections while also helping many of the people they encounter find solutions to their particular health safety issues.”

Speaking by phone Tuesday evening, Hoffman said “it hurts” to leave a position in a city she loves so much. The final straw, she said, were the rumors that circulated following last month’s City Council meeting, when the status of her employment was questioned by residents and a city councilor. Hoffman responded that night by saying while she had been taking some time off, “I’m here and I’m doing work.”

Hoffman clarified this week that she had taken intermittent periods of time off — an arrangement worked out with the mayor — to deal with the emotional toll of daily harassment, manipulation and even threats from members of the public, but until the night of that City Council meeting hadn’t formally decided to resign.

In a statement issued by the city, Hoffman cited “six people” in particular who were “harassing, abusive, manipulative and downright disrespectful and rude,” though she did not identify them.

Wedegartner said Hoffman is “not alone” in her frustration at the “relentless scrutiny, incivility and petty criticisms” faced by city employees who do their jobs daily on behalf of residents. Hoffman said while it would be one thing to expect this kind of thing to happen occasionally, it had become a daily occurrence that began to impact her life outside of work.

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“I have a kid; I have a life,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m not just the city of Greenfield health director.”

According to Hoffman, others in the city have left recently for similar reasons.

Wedegartner credited Hoffman for building a Health Department “like no other around this area.” Hoffman, who previously served as chair of the Board of Health, stepped into the role as interim director in September 2020 following Valerie Bird’s retirement.

“I feel there’s a lot of work that still needs to get done,” Hoffman said. “I really think we have to work hard with our homeless and opioid problem that’s affecting Greenfield. I think there is a lot of health promotion that needs to continue. We have restaurants to keep up to task as well as landlords. I feel like we need to follow up on environmental concerns like [the former Lunt Silversmiths property] … even though the [state Department of Environmental Protection] is heavily involved.”

As director, she guided the city through the COVID-19 pandemic, and sought and received a multi-year Public Health Excellence Grant totaling $425,000, allowing Greenfield’s public health initiatives to extend into Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland, Leverett and Shutesbury.

“The relationships I’ve established with people in the city are amazing,” Hoffman said. “There are people I’ve worked with that are my family. My department is amazing; my board is the most engaged board I think that’s ever been. Every single person on the board is doing something in their free time to promote public health.”

Wedegartner said she hopes to have an interim director in place within the next two weeks before Hoffman’s departure.

“It’ll be big shoes to fill,” she said.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.