After a tumultuous two days during which the Spokane Regional Health District’s administrator tried to fire him, Spokane County’s health officer released a statement Saturday saying he doesn’t plan to resign and has hired a lawyer to resist the “troubling” move.
Dr. Bob Lutz’s full statement:
“In light of the recent events surrounding my employment with the Spokane Regional Health District, I have hired attorney Bryce Wilcox from Lee & Hayes. To be clear, I have not resigned. I maintain a strong desire to continue working to promote the health and safety of the citizens of Spokane County and this region. The manner, timing, and motivation underlying the request I resign is troubling, and I have hired Mr. Wilcox to assist me in pursuing all available legal remedies should the SRHD’s Board decide to terminate my employment. Like everyone else, I am now in limbo and am awaiting word from the Board regarding my employment status. Further information will be forthcoming after I hear from the Board.”
Lutz’s statement comes after the district’s administrator, Amelia Clark, asked him to resign. It also comes as the community is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, leading to criticism from some members of the public alarmed by the prospect of a pandemic without a local leader to navigate it.
The district’s board members haven’t returned numerous calls seeking comment, and officials at a press conference Friday offered little detail.
By Saturday evening, the district released a statement saying it’s scheduling a meeting to weigh Clark’s proposal, with both Clark and Lutz getting chances to speak. The board will then hold a vote before the public.
If they uphold Clark’s recommendation, they’ll have to separately weigh her proposal for Lutz’s temporary replacement: Dr. Mary Bergum, whom the district identified as its medical director for the Treatment Services Division.
The district’s statement offered few new details on the motivation for Lutz’s attempted firing.
“SRHD acknowledges that this is difficult timing for such a transition. Administrator Amelia Clark would not have sought the employment separation of Dr. Lutz during the COVID 19 pandemic if other viable options were available,” the statement reads. “Administrator Clark determined that the performance issues were such that they needed to be addressed immediately for the benefit of SRHD and the community.”
The district also said it didn’t vote on anything in an executive session at a Friday meeting, pushing back against accusations that it violated open-meeting laws.
Dr. Kim Thorburn, who was forced out from the same position in 2006, said Saturday she supported Lutz’s decision to challenge the attempted ouster.
“My strong suspicion is that they are really against his outspokenness,” Thorburn said. “This conflict has been building.”
Thorburn called the district’s move “ridiculous” and “unbelievable.”
“(Lutz) absolutely should be resisting it,” she said. “The community should be up in arms; he’s done a good job giving solid information.”
As of Saturday evening, many in the community seemed to be taking Thorburn’s advice.
The Spokane County Medical Society released a statement condemning the potential ouster as “irresponsible,” especially considering how Lutz has helped the community navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
The society said it had gathered over 110 signatures of medical professionals who also opposed the move.
“He brought healthcare systems together in joint efforts to manage the initial panic,” the statement reads. “His calm voice of leadership helped keep thousands of people safe and prevented our clinics and hospitals from being overwhelmed.”
Meanwhile, the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a joint statement with I Did the Time and the Hispanic Business Association Saturday calling the bid to fire Lutz “sudden, secretive, and untimely.”
“While Spokane, as well as the entire country, has seen disproportionately high negative impacts of COVID-19 on people of color and immigrant communities, we have found a thoughtful and genuine ally in Dr. Lutz,” the statement reads, while also calling the district’s process “vague and dismissive.”
The organizations’ statement says they join “a growing chorus” of community members concerned by the attempted firing.
“Dr. Lutz has championed the causes of all our marginalized communities tirelessly and has made health equity a priority for the health district,” the statement continues.