OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A message of support for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health as hundreds rallied Wednesday, backing the department and top health officer Adeline Hambley.

The crowd pushed back against proposed cuts to the health department that would impact several programs. Close to 400 people protested to protect funding and the department’s top health officer Adeline Hambley after she said the department needs more money to support the community, staff, and vital health services.

“When Ottawa Impact first took over the commission it was politics and it was irritating, but now I am deeply concerned for everyone in this county,” said community member John Harberts. 

The controversy in Ottawa County spilled onto the streets in front of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, where embattled health officer Adeline Hambley is fighting to keep millions in department funding and her job.

“John Gibbs was projecting, he’s made like six different revisions for the budget and he keeps changing it and each time it still leaves the health department straggling without funding,” said community member Christina Strait.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners downsized the $6.4 million Hambley requested to $4.3 million. It’s an increase from $2.5 million the board originally proposed, which they said was the pre-COVID-19 budget. 

Hambley said the health department’s staff and programs like immunizations, STD testing/prevention and communicable disease investigations need more money.

The health department released a statement to News 8 Wednesday:

“The Ottawa County Department of Public Health is not a political organization, and is not affiliated with any political party. We respect each person’s right to freedom of assembly. Our mission is to assure conditions that promote and protect the health of everyone in Ottawa County, no matter their political affiliation — no exceptions.”

At the rally, protestors heard from a doctor and a family who relies on the health department resources for their 3-year-old daughter.

“Nobody could make us promises but our family, our community and our resources have helped weave a web of stability and a safety net for her future,” said Jamie Blodgett. 

Past health department employees spoke, saying they want public health and not a political playground. Many people held signs.

“It says that we want to support the public health department because of what it does for people,” said former Ottawa County health inspector Kevin Hoxsey as he explained the sign he brought. “We’ve heard so many things about people that want to defund it for this reason or that reason, sometimes politically, it’s always political, but they do so much for prevention and illness.” 

People at the rally said they are done with political agendas and want to focus on candidates who support the best interest of all of the people in Ottawa County. 

“I hope we can maintain this kind of momentum and that people stay interested and that they will get out there and vote and support candidates with good common sense no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or independents, they will support those candidates who are looking out for the people and not politics,” said Harberts.

Ottawa County released a breakdown of the proposed budget Wednesday night.

An upcoming public hearing will be held next Tuesday with a final vote from commissioners expected Sept. 26.