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Butte's Health Department leader retiring after challenging times

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Posted at 7:36 AM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-21 15:38:34-05

BUTTE - “Parting gifts, just like on 'Let’s Make a Deal,' you get parting gifts,” Karen Sullivan said with a laugh.

Sullivan is enjoying her last few days as head of Butte-Silver Bow’s Health Department, but the past 8 years have not been easy, and the past 20 months have been very difficult in dealing with a deadly pandemic and a sometimes threatening public.

“Threatening phone calls indicating that we were targets. It was very difficult; there were times we had to consult with the sheriff about our safety because of various threats, so it makes the difficult COVID work even more difficult,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan made difficult decisions when the first cases of COVID-19 hit Butte in March of 2020. This included canceling Butte’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and capacity restrictions in bars, casinos, and restaurants to prevent the spread of the virus.

“She’s a strong woman. She made very difficult decisions and took a beating over many of them, but what she did protected our community,” said her co-worker Diane Regan.

Her staff was inspired by her strength.

“The death threats, the mean comments, it would make anybody just want to say, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’ But it didn’t and it just added fuel to our fire to keep coming here and showing up and doing the best we could every single day,” said Interim Director Karen Maloughney.

Sullivan believes her team made a difference.

“And I forever stand by the decisions that were made and take great pride in them,” Sullivan said.

Maloughney added, “It’s really hard because you can’t put a number to how many lives were saved, but the decisions were incredibly difficult and for each one that she did she saved a life.”

And even though this health crisis is still continuing, Sullivan says she’s ready to leave this office because she knows her co-workers are ready to continue the good fight.

“I feel like I can retire, because the community is in really good hands and so mentally capable of walking out the door because I know everything is going to be okay,” said Sullivan.