Rock Island County health department employees protest “hostile workplace”

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- Rock Island County health department workers are protesting what they've called a hostile workplace, arising primarily from one chief nursing officer. Several of them could be seen picketing outside the county administration building Tuesday afternoon and making strong public comments at the start of the county board meeting.

Multiple employees complained that they had reported incidents of harassment and discrimination to the county administrator, chairman of the county board and to the Rock Island board of health. They said their complaints had fallen on deaf ears for the last nine months, driving them to make a public plea.

"We were just so desperate that we had to go public," said health department worker Hilary Knott. "After we had gone through our grievance process and directly talking to the administration, the county and the health department, they would just put little band-aids on and offer solutions that weren't working out," she said.

One former health department worker filed a lawsuit against the county, claiming negative behaviors and verbal assaults from the chief nursing officer that went from uncivil and unprofessional to outright discrimination.

"There is discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, origin and disability at the Rock Island County Health department," said Elvia Ortiz at the public comment session.

"We have been working in a hostile workplace since September of 2018. And I’m ex-military so I’ve got a thick skin. I can tolerate a lot," said another health department worker, Joleen Diehl.

The protesters said they wanted the board to hear their complaints in a very public way. If the county doesn't take corrective action, some health department workers said they thought the county would be on the hook with more lawsuits down the line.

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