An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Spokane Health Officer To Work For Washington State

Spokane Regional Health District

Dr. Bob Lutz will soon begin a new public health role. The former Spokane County Health Officer will assume a Covid-related job with the Washington Department of Health.

Doug Nadvornick recently talked with him.

Bob Lutz is going to the Washington state Health Department at an interesting time. The week of Christmas, state Health Officer Kathy Lofy is leaving her position. Then, on January 10, Health Secretary John Wiesman will move on, to be replaced by Umair Shah, the top public health official in Houston.

A few weeks ago, after he was fired by the Spokane County health board, Lutz says one of the department’s deputy secretaries reached out to him.

Bob Lutz: “She called me up out of the blue. I wasn’t quite expecting it. We were talking. It was only a couple weeks, actually a week or two after everything happened in Spokane. Long story short, she goes, would you be interested in working for the Department of Health? My jaw kind of dropped. It’s like, let me think why I wouldn’t want to work for the Department of Health. It just sort of played out. We talked back and forth and, obviously, given the fact you’re going to have such a significant change at the top of the Department of Health, very abruptly, although it’s been stated, but irrespective, the fact that both Drs. Wiesman and Lofy are leaving simultaneously and Dr. Shah coming on board, which, I will say, is just a great opportunity for Washington state. He will be a great Secretary of Health. That aside, it just sort of came that, would you be interested? Yes. What does it look like? Let’s talk about this and then here we are right now.”

Lutz says he will work from Spokane, virtually, perhaps with some occasional travel. He will also keep two other positions that he has held, health officer for Asotin County and membership on the Washington state Board of Health.

As for the value he brings to the Department of Health?

Bob Lutz: “I guess I would suggest a couple of things, Doug. First of all, I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve been in the trenches at the local level with an incredible staff at Spokane Regional Health District and at Asotin, where I still am, that have been dealing with the day-to-day issues associated with Covid-19. So I think I bring that perspective. I also come, importantly, from eastern Washington and I would suggest to you and the audience that eastern Washington’s perspective, experiences, they’re different than what we see and what we hear, and I would offer, to some degree, what often gets presented to us from Olympia at many levels. You know, I recognize, I think we all need to recognize that, disproportionately, Covid-19 has impacted many populations that many times go without a voice. I give a lot of credit to the Department of Health for putting equity into every effort that they are doing going forward. What I plan on bringing from my perspective as a local health officer first, now working for the Department of Health, is to ensure that equity and that those who don’t always have voices are part of the conversation.”

Lutz wouldn’t comment on the possibility of legal action against his former employer. He has hired an attorney. He also said it wasn’t the right time to talk about the lessons he learned while leading the health district through the pandemic.

He says he’s been overwhelmed by the support he has received since the news initially broke about the attempt to fire him.

Lutz will begin his new job on December 16.