Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Spokane Regional Health District building Friday afternoon to protest the attempted ouster of Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.
The health board supported the district’s administrator Amelia Clark’s decision to ask Lutz to resign from his post as health officer Thursday or be fired, health board chairman Ben Wick said. Officials aren’t saying why he was asked to resign.
Debbie Waltman, a registered nurse at Deaconess Hospital, was one of the final few who stuck around. She held a neon bright sign: “Lutz saves lives.”
Waltman said she worked at the health district for about a year and a half. She said in that short time, she saw people “being escorted out, being fired dramatically,” several times.
“I just think of (Lutz) as a measured, responsive health officer who cares about the community and cares about both sides of things,” Waltman said. “The decisions he made, he made with intention and thoughtfulness. He really – he’s the real deal. He’s a good human being.”
As she spoke, a woman drove by with “Keep Lutz” painted on her car. She rolled down her window.
“I’d love to support you, but I’m in quarantine,” she shouted.
Despite repeated questions from multiple reporters during a news conference about the forced resignation Friday, Clark and Health Board Chairman Ben Wick declined to elaborate on why exactly Lutz was being asked to resign, calling it a “personnel issue.”
Lutz sometimes butted heads with members of the board who had pushed to loosen pandemic restrictions.
“Why are most of the board politicians instead of medical people?” asked Ziggy Siegfried, a maintenance worker at Washington State University and a 2014 candidate for state representative in the 6th Legislative District.
Siegfried pointed out that Jason Kinley, a naturopathic doctor appointed to the board of health in December, had protested alongside state Rep. Matt Shea in May demanding that Gov. Jay Inslee lift his stay-home order.
At the event, Kinley took the microphone after Shea and spread misinformation for several minutes, promoting hydroxychloroquine, high doses of vitamin C and treatment at his own clinic as cures for the virus.
Nurses at the event, including Waltman, worried about the immediate consequences of not having a health officer in place even for a brief time.
Waltman also noted increasing COVID-19 spread – the city recorded the second-highest single-day COVID-19 spike in cases Friday with 167 more positives tests, after surpassing 200 total deaths this week.
Liz Backstrom, director of grants and contracts at the YWCA, didn’t attend the protest, but came by around 5:15 p.m. as it ended to ask her friend, Waltman, how it had gone.
“On behalf of the Y, we’ve had a great experience working with Lutz,” she said.
Backstrom wondered aloud whether any new health officer will be fired as soon as they move out of step with the health board.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and to lose our health officer now,” Backstrom said, “I feel hopeless and powerless, and that’s not a good feeling.”
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