Spokane Health Officer Bob Lutz Asked To Resign; No Word Yet If He Has
UPDATE: 4:45 pm to include letter of support from school superintendents in Educational Service District 101 (see below)
Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins says the Board of Health has not scheduled a meeting for this afternoon to discuss the Lutz situation. That would require public notification. She says she will provide an update before the end of the day.
The Spokane Regional Health District's administrative officer has reportedly asked Health Officer Bob Lutz to resign. Amelia Clark addressed reporters during a press conference Friday morning.
“A discussion was had during the executive session of the Board of Health meeting regarding performance concerns of the health officer. The executive committee gave me their support to ask for Dr. Lutz’s resignation," Clark said.
She would not give specifics regarding those performance concerns, citing the advice from the district’s legal counsel.
After Clark left the news conference, reporters pressed district spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins to clarify the circumstances surrounding Lutz’s apparent departure.
“He was asked to resign, as of today, and we have not reached the end of today," she said.
“So, he was asked to resign and is no longer an employee and did not resign, so therefore he was terminated?”
“That has not happened at this time," Hawkins said.
“Is that going to happen if he doesn’t resign?”
“That is a future decision to be made and also something that needs to be discussed within personnel," Hawkins said.
She told reporters that more information may be coming later in the day, without offering specifics.
Clark says the board did not vote on the recommendation.
She says the health district will immediately begin looking for someone to replace Lutz. For now, she says, his duties will be spread among existing staff. She also alluded to the possibility of hiring someone on a temporary, contract basis during the recruitment process.
Friday's virtual press conference was attended by about 100 people, a small percentage of them reporters. One of them was Whitworth University President Beck Taylor, who had already tweeted his support for Lutz, saying the health officer helped Whitworth develop its strategy for bringing students back to campus.
“I spoke with Bob, if not on a daily basis, certainly a couple of times a week. I don’t have that partner now at Spokane Regional Health. When I do have a new partner there, that person’s obviously going to have to climb a huge learning curve, not just for Whitworth, but for all entities and organizations in Spokane County.”
Lutz served on the health board himself until he was appointed health officer. He has led the district's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases over the last few weeks has rivaled the peak of the pandemic in the mid-summer.
Some in the community, including the county commissioners, have seemed impatient with that response. In June, while the numbers of confirmed cases were in the low double digits, the commissioners wrote a letter, requesting the health district petition the state Health Department to start the process of moving Spokane County from phase 2 to phase 3 of the state's coronavirus protocol. A few weeks later, the county's numbers began to increase and the idea seemed to fade. Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee has, for the most part, paused the process of advancing counties through the protocol.
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward issued a statement: “Dr. Lutz has faced an extremely tough challenge over an extended time and gave everything he had to the community. Spokane and the state were the first to take the national stage in February. We have been learning about the virus as we go and those long months since have left our region anxious, tired, and frustrated that we are not progressing as fast as everyone had hoped. This is a community health and economic emergency and it takes partnership and community to solve it; we will rally together as Spokane always does. Please continue to put your loved ones, friends, neighbors, and colleagues first as you remain resilient and practice good mask etiquette and hand hygiene.”
A short statement from the Washington Department of Health: "The Washington State Department of Health would like to thank Dr. Bob Lutz for his service to Spokane County as a local public health leader. We remain ready to offer support to the county health district as needed until a new Local Health Officer is named."
Statement from Spokane County Democrats:
SPOKANE, WA - The Spokane County Democrats remain united in our support of science. Dr. Lutz has been a strong advocate in keeping our community safe, offering critical guidance at a time when our residents’ health and safety are threatened.
The decision by the Spokane Regional Health District Board to force out Spokane County’s health officer amid a pandemic is unconscionable. Just yesterday, Spokane reported four additional COVID-19 related deaths and crossed over the barrier of 200 total deaths since the start of the pandemic. The district confirmed 112 new cases yesterday. In what universe is eliminating the public health officer from the county the appropriate response to surging cases and continued deaths?
Equally concerning is the lack of transparency in the process to remove Dr. Lutz from his critical role of Public Health Officer. The meeting was not open to the public, and not even the Board of Health had the opportunity to vote on this. The press conference today was a farce. The press conference offered no explanations. Just this week, Dr. Lutz was rewarded with the 2020 Sister Peter Claver Humanitarian Award, which Spokane Regional Health District touted with pride. It’s hard to see this decision to remove Dr. Lutz as anything other than a political choice.
Removing our county’s public health officer amid a major public health crisis is negligent at best and maliciously reckless at worst.
At this stage, we still have no clear answers about who will be making critical public health decisions. Our community needs experienced guidance and a public health official who lets science guide their decisions. Dr. Lutz was this trusted person. Now, we are left to wonder what will come of those who deny the importance of wearing masks. Dr. Lutz’s removal may be seen as invalidating Dr. Lutz’s pleas regarding the importance of masks.
Our community is vulnerable right now. Lives are in danger, and as a county, we can’t neglect the needs of the most vulnerable among us who are particularly threatened by the pandemic. The decision to remove Dr. Lutz is an asinine and negligent decision that will imperil lives.
A STATEMENT OF APPRECIATION FROM THE SPOKANE COUNTY SUPERINTENDENTS
As superintendents of the public school districts in Spokane County, we have each sincerely appreciated the thoughtful guidance and generous time Dr. Bob Lutz (and others on the Spokane Regional Health District team) has provided us throughout the ongoing pandemic.
Decisions that have been made have not been easy or uncomplicated, for any of us nor for Dr. Lutz and other public health professionals. Yet, he has leaned in with us and collaborated as we have strived to make the best decisions possible for our students and district communities, and for the larger regional community we share.
Mr. Ben Small, Superintendent, Central Valley School District
Mr. Rob Roettger, Superintendent, Cheney School District
Mr. Travis Hanson, Superintendent, Deer Park School District
Mr. Kelly Shea, Superintendent, East Valley School District
Dr. Randy Russell, Superintendent, Freeman School District
Mr. Jeff Baerwald, Superintendent, Great Northern School District
Mr. Brett Baum, Superintendent, Liberty School District
Mr. Shawn Woodward, Superintendent, Mead School District
Mr. Tim Ames, Superintendent, Medical Lake School District
Dr. Dave Smith, Superintendent, Newport School District,
Mr. Brian Talbott, Superintendent, Nine Mile Falls School District
Ms. Suzanne Savall, Superintendent, Orchard Prairie School District
Mr. Eric Sobotta, Superintendent, Reardan-Edwall School District
Dr. Ken Russell, Superintendent, Riverside School District
Dr. Adam Swinyard, Superintendent, Spokane School District
Mr. Kyle Rydell, Superintendent, West Valley School District
Dr. Michael Dunn, Superintendent, Northeast Washington ESD 101
Tweet from Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh:
I am personally very concerned by the reported ouster of the Director of @spokanehealth, Dr. Bob Lutz. In the face of this pandemic he has worked tirelessly & been a wise, effective guide to us in @spokanecounty & @GonzagaU. It is my hope that this decision can be reconsidered.