The board meeting of the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) on November 4th was raised only after the public expressed outrage over a lack of transparency in the firing of Dr. Bob Lutz by the administrator Ms. Amelia Clark. The meeting exposed a confusing power struggle in which an administrator (without a degree in public health) wanted to reign in the health officer (a physician) from making statements or educating the public on critical issues of public health, including the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, gun violence, and climate change. Ultimately, the board composed of elected officials (without any health professionals among them) voted to fire Dr. Lutz. An interim health officer was unanimously selected to steer the county’s health response until at least next month— despite the fact that at least some board members had not even heard of him and there has been a surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
The SRHD mission is to “protect, improve and promote the health and well-being of all people through evidence-based practices,” not to do what is politically palatable or expedient. The structure of the SRHD should reflect its mission or it will be ineffective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health threats. Decision-making authority of the administrator and health officer should be aligned with their expertise and training. Most SRHD board members should have public health experience and expertise— and the electorate of Spokane County should vote accordingly.
Claire Richards, Ph.D., R.N.