The head of the Tulsa Health Department said he’s getting threatening messages to the point that he has turned to police.
Dr. Bruce Dart has worked in public health for 40 years. He said leading the Tulsa Health Department during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging to say the least.
"For whatever reason, public health has been looked at as the 'arch enemy,' I think, in this response," said Dart.
Dart said has heard from people all over the world, including some in the form of angry and politically-driven emails. Through a Freedom of Information Request, News On 6 obtained hundreds of emails between Dart and other officials and the public.
One of the emails from a member of the public read in part, "Why are you hell bent on forcing Tulsans to muzzle up?! Don't you care about the stress, tension, anger and friction this dictatorial mandate will create here in Tulsa?"
Dart said that kind of anger escalated mid-June, around the time of President Trump's rally in Tulsa. That is when Dart spoke out against all large indoor gatherings and started getting concerning anonymous voicemails.
"Threatened my life, threatened bloodshed, threatened things like that,” said Dart. “I didn't really want to call attention to it. My staff were very concerned, which is why I filed a police report. If people are threatening me, then by extension, my staff are concerned as well because you never know in today's world what could possibly happen."
The stress and tension are being felt by many health care workers, according to Dr. George Monks with the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
"Unfortunately, COVID and wearing face masks became a very much political issue, and so it's been very politicized, which has made things even more challenging," said Monks.
Both Monks and Dart said they are determined to do their part and hope everyone else does, too.
"Instead of fighting each other, let's come together and fight this virus so that we don't have to have these conversations and that our lives aren't continued to be turned upside down," said Dart.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials, based in Washington, D.C., said attacks on health officials are partly to blame for our country losing experienced leadership in healthcare.
Lori Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, also issued this statement:
“Bruce has been a long-standing, highly reputable career public health leader. He has contributed tirelessly to advancing the field of public health, serving previously as the President of the National Association of County & City Health Officials, volunteering on numerous national-level expert advisory groups and taskforces, and currently serving on the Boards of the Public Health Accreditation Board and the Editorial Board for the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.
Even more importantly, Bruce cares very deeply about the community where he lives and works and serves and the public health official in Tulsa. I have had the opportunity to work closely with Bruce over the course of many years, and his integrity, honesty, and dedication to public health are not just part of his day job in Tulsa, but part of his life’s work.
Bruce Dart is an outstanding public health expert and leader and a decades long contributor to his field. To have Bruce’s expertise and credibility challenged, to have him be personally threatened related to his COVID response work is not only insulting on a personal and professional level, it is insulting to the field of public health.
Bruce Dart has no ulterior motives here. His work, like all other public health officials serving in the same role for their communities, is to protect the health and safety of the people they so aptly serve. He simply cares about ensuring the health of Tulsa and any guidance or public health recommendations he has ever made, have been for that simple purpose and have nothing to do with politics or posturing.”