SRHD Adrift

The national scene feels wobbly as Mr. Trump flails away in a manner which, had we witnessed it from afar, we would not have hesitated to call an attempted coup. Meanwhile, we are adrift without leadership in Spokane as we head into what is likely to be the worst of the Covid pandemic. The Spokane Regional Health District has gone quiet, silenced by the firing of Dr. Lutz.

Former President of the City of Spokane City Council Ben Stuckart captured the situation into which the SRHD Board and Administrator has thrust our region. In a Faceback post last Monday, November 9, copied below with his permission is his accurate assessment of our predicament and how we got there [the bracketed links are mine]:

895 new cases in the last 4 days. People – those numbers shatter all records. I heard SRHD won’t be commenting for another week? Where are the clusters? What are we doing to get this under control? Who is available, since we haven’t heard from the new interim health officer, to address this? How is contact tracing going? Should we go back to free tests sites all over Spokane to see how widespread it is right now?

To recap:

1) Health District Admin. 
[Amelia Clark] and Board of Health (BOH) Chair illegally fire Health Officer [Thursday, October 29]

2) Health District Admin. and BOH Chair hold the worst press conference ever, they lie and admit to breaking law [Friday, October 30, youtube of press conference]

3) County Commissioner accidentally caught on KREM 2 mic discussing how we need to “open back up” [Al French dodging and weaving on a KREM 2 interview October 30 with broader KREM 2 coverage here.]

4) Board of Health holds a CYA meeting and fire health officer officially [full 4 hour meeting youtube]

5) BOH immediately appoint someone with ZERO public health experience to the position [Dr. Francisco Velazquez Resume]

6) Spokane Mayor accidentally sends a note to everyone calling this the “best news [she] has heard in a long time”
 [the letter].

7) Mayor says she didn’t mean what she actually said out loud

8) State Board of Health unanimously opens independent investigation of firing sequence 
[Inlander article]

9) Community left wondering why no one has addressed the 895 case new cases in the last 4 days. Cannot find new health officer or health administrator.

How long until they ask for phase 3??? Just bet on it. Numbers be damned!

A search of the Spokesman website for Covid-19:Local (free Covid coverage) offers just one article since November 6, one week ago. SRHD has gone dark, it’s public face, Dr. Lutz, fired by the business community under the leadership, one suspects, of Spokane County Commissioner Al French, with assistance from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, and to the delight of Mayor Woodward. It is the triumph of local business interests over science and non-corporate medicine, parallel to our lack of national leadership from a lame duck President who refuses even to meet with his own Covid task force. 

Here in Spokane we are left to wonder when Al French’s acquaintance in the Spokane business community, pathologist, and personal pick for Health Officer, Dr. Velazquez, will appear on the scene and what we should think of the guidance he offers when he does.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Al French knows the levers of local power. He is by far the most senior of the three Spokane County Commissioners, and, as such, is in the most powerful elected position in Spokane County. He mentioned during the SRHD BOH meeting at which Dr. Lutz was voted out that he, Al French, served on that Board in 2002. (I do not have his entire CV to understand the specifics–Ballotpedia and Wikipedia are good sources for background only down to federal and state elected officials, not county level and below,) Mr. French is listed as absent in the minutes of 22 consecutive BOH meetings leading up to May, 2020. He reappeared in May, but on available videos of subsequent meetings (there are still no posted minutes) Mr. French’s face rarely appears. Still, he made it to the extended Executive Session at the firing meeting of the Board. Immediately after the Executive Session Mr. French stepped up to make the motion to fire Dr.Lutz. Once that vote was taken, Mr. French stepped up again with a motion to appoint Dr. Velazquez interim Health Officer–a motion that appeared to take several of the Board members by surprise. I find it inconceivable that Commissioner French wasn’t behind Amelia Clark’s abortive, ill-timed, poorly documented, and illegal attempted firing of Dr. Lutz that preceded the Board meeting we witnessed. I don’t wish to let Ms. Clark off the hook either, but let us not forget the likely man behind the curtain.