Emails reveal dismay, anger over vaccine chief’s firing

Earlier this yr, Tennessee’s Department of Health sparked nationwide consideration after Dr. Michelle “Shelley” Fiscus was fired below strain from Republican legislators incensed over the division’s efforts to get kids vaccinated towards COVID-19. Fiscus accused Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey of terminating her “to appease a handful of outraged and uninformed legislators.”

The Associated Press requested every week’s price of emails among the many well being division’s prime management concerning Fiscus’ firing in mid-July. The information, launched for evaluation after a number of months, paint a extra full image of an company in turmoil over the firing of an official who was extremely regarded by these preventing to include the pandemic.

The company final month stated it will value the AP roughly $1,400 to evaluation a number of hundred information. Ultimately, the division produced some 150 information to view in particular person for gratis, explaining the discrepancy by saying the preliminary determine had estimated “potential” prices. The state’s open information legislation requires that each one public information be made out there for inspection upon request.

Emails supplied to the AP present some officers had been shocked at Fiscus’ firing.

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“I’m so saddened by this news and actually can’t realize it,” wrote Dr. Jill Obremskey, division medical director. “Dr. Fiscus has put forth a herculean effort to guarantee COVID vaccine was out there to anybody who needed it. Because of her, many lives have been saved.”

In saying Fiscus’ firing, Dr. John Dunn, state epidemiologist, acknowledged that the news was “sudden, unhappy and disconcerting to our group members.”

“I want her the perfect sooner or later. Her dedication to public well being has been very evident in the course of the COVID-19 response effort over the final 18 months,” Dunn wrote on July 12.

Two days prior, in a separate e-mail to CDC officers, Dunn highlighted that Fiscus had helped lead “herculean efforts” to push the COVID-19 shot among the many state’s unvaccinated.

Dr. Tim Jones, chief medical officer, later advised Dunn his sort phrases about Fiscus had upset Piercey.

“By the best way, the commissioner is admittedly indignant that you just wrote something good about Shelley in your conventional ‘farewell message’ and that Obremskey reiterated it. It’s been enjoyable round right here,” Jones wrote to Dunn on July 14.

A division spokesperson declined to touch upon Jones’ description, saying it was a personnel difficulty.

The e-mail visitors raises new questions about a letter dated July 9 — attributed to Jones — that beneficial the firing of Fiscus.

The letter stated Fiscus needs to be eliminated as a result of complaints about her management strategy and her dealing with of a letter explaining vaccination rights of minors for COVID-19 pictures without notifying their dad and mom, which helped immediate the backlash from lawmakers.

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Tennessee officers, nevertheless, didn’t launch her efficiency opinions, that are exempted below state public information legislation. Fiscus’ husband Brad circulated them in rebuttal, displaying she obtained glowing value determinations over a number of years. One constructive evaluation got here as not too long ago as June, when Dunn praised Fiscus for “sturdy management” whereas her program was below “very intense scrutiny.”

A month prior, Republican lawmakers put Fiscus and the division within the sizzling seat over its childhood vaccine messaging efforts, with one lawmaker floating the potential for shuttering the well being company as retribution.

News of Fiscus’ firing rapidly resulted in a barrage of cellphone calls from Tennesseans and others alarmed by her dismissal and the division’s choice to pause COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts for eligible minors. Emails present Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s communication group supplied a script for the well being company to recite.

“(The division) started utilizing the script at about 12:45 and it isn’t going nicely…the callers are actually upset,” wrote company staffer Lisa Hanner.

Piercey was on trip in Greece when Fiscus was fired. Few of the emails supplied to AP embody her correspondence, however a handful point out she was monitoring media protection.

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At least one physician emailed Piercey to reward her for firing Fiscus, which the commissioner forwarded to Brandon Gibson, Lee’s chief working officer. There’s no indication within the information that she forwarded any emails from the medical neighborhood backing Fiscus.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues on the Tennessee Department of Health for coming to my protection and admonishing the division management’s choice to terminate me from my place,” Fiscus advised the AP.

“Tennessee’s elected and appointed officers proceed to place politics forward of what’s in the perfect curiosity of the well being and wellbeing of the folks of Tennessee and it’s the individuals who will proceed to undergo the results of those misguided priorities. It’s shameful,” she added.

The division didn’t reply to the information request till Sept. 9, informing the AP it will value about $1,400 for attorneys to vet and probably redact about 875 information. When the AP requested to view the information in particular person as allowed below Tennessee’s open information legislation, the division up to date that the entire quantity of paperwork could be 374.

Ultimately, the company solely recognized 158 paperwork throughout the AP’s information request. Asked about the lowered quantity, a division spokesperson stated the unique estimate included “potential” information, not a agency quantity.

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