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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Health board set to vote Thursday to keep or terminate Dr. Bob Lutz

The Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health will meet virtually at 3 p.m. Thursday to hear from both Administrator Amelia Clark and Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz and decide whether to terminate Lutz as Clark has recommended.

Clark and Lutz will each get 30 minutes to make remarks before the board. Then board members will be allowed to ask questions of both Clark and Lutz.

There is a possible executive session listed on the agenda, and there are three “potential” action items listed: a vote on action regarding the executive session, a vote to terminate Lutz and a vote to approve an acting health officer.

The meeting will mark a full week since Lutz says he was asked to turn over his district keys and badge. To date, the health district has not clarified or said who is acting as the health officer, while Lutz has been locked out.

In order for Lutz to be officially terminated, the Board of Health must approve Clark’s recommendation in a public meeting. Lutz issued a statement on Monday in which he says he was fired, however, creating even more confusion.

The confusion over why Clark asked Lutz to resign has led local and medical community members to organize and ask the health district for transparency.

The board is accepting written comment before 11 a.m. the day of the meeting.

The health district likely will not say why Clark has called for Lutz’s termination until the meeting on Thursday because Lutz has not granted the health district consent to discuss the reasoning behind the termination, Kelli Hawkins, public information officer, said.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 94 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, and five more county residents died from the virus. There are 70 COVID-19 patients being treated in Spokane hospitals, and 55 of them are Spokane County residents.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 102 more COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, and confirmed more deaths to bring the total in the five-county region to 79. There are 55 Panhandle residents hospitalized, and 40 of them are at Kootenai Health.

Meanwhile, more fallout grew this week from Clark’s sudden move to fire Lutz.

“We, the undersigned citizens, are concerned about the sudden departure and subsequent press conference regarding Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane Regional Health District Public Health Officer. From a community perspective, Dr. Lutz has provided critical leadership during a challenging public health crisis,” reads a letter released Monday and signed by 156 organizations, businesses and faith communities in the Spokane region, as well as by 583 residents.

The letter does acknowledge that Clark has not publicly given her reasons for asking Lutz to resign.

“Barring any egregious personal conduct, Dr. Lutz has our full support,” the letter continues.

The two unions representing the vast majority of workers at SRHD also released and sent a letter to Clark and the board members on Tuesday. Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 and the Washington State Nurses Association leaders said their members do not understand the Board’s decision to ask for Lutz’s resignation, calling for a public meeting to understand Clark’s actions.

“We need a unified leadership team at SRHD, especially going into the winter months when the COVID-19 crisis is expected to become much worse. Dr. Lutz greatly contributes to that unified team, and we stand behind his excellent leadership,” the union letter says.

“We urge the Spokane Regional Health District Administrator, Amelia Clark, and the Board of Health to reconsider their decision, and carefully evaluate the far-reaching repercussions of forcing Dr. Lutz out of his position. Public health staff need strong leadership right now, and we firmly believe we have that in Dr. Lutz.”

Separately, a petition has garnered more than 6,000 signatures calling for the removal of Clark as the administrator of the health district.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.