Another top doc resigns in Anchorage, health director faces tough questions
Another prominent doctor who worked to manage public health efforts in Anchorage has resigned.
Bruce Chandler, a longtime physician in the Anchorage Department of Health specializing in infectious disease control and prevention, handed in a letter of resignation on Sunday. His resignation is effective August 15 and he is on leave until then, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health.
Chandler did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday night, but Acting Director of Health David Morgan told Assembly members at a meeting that Chandler had retired.
This is the latest episode of uproar for the health department in Alaska’s largest city, where a spike in coronavirus cases, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, has pushed all of the state’s major hospitals to sound the alarm.
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Dave Bronson, the city’s new mayor, has expressed skepticism about masking and vaccines. He said he would not take measures, like capacity limits, to mitigate the spread, a major change from how the city has approached the virus. Bronson called the vaccines “experimental” and said he had not been vaccinated. At a press conference last week, members of his administration played down the hospital’s concerns.
Also last week, Anchorage epidemiologist Janet Johnston left the health department, saying she didn’t think she could meet her goals under the new administration. Alaska’s News Source reported that Johnston had been asked to resign with immediate effect, otherwise she would be fired.
Bronson has appointed Morgan to head the city’s health department, but his appointment must be approved by the Assembly. During a working session on Tuesday, he was faced with pointed questions from members about comments he made on social media that appeared to downplay the pandemic, his beliefs about the science behind the current mitigations COVID-19 and his lack of experience in public health.
“My inbox has been swamped with emails from people emailing me concerned about this date. And these include people you’ve worked with in the past and it seems there are a number of examples in your past where you’ve left organizations worse off than you found them ”, said Kameron Perez-Verdia, member of the Assembly.
Perez-Verdia was in part referring to allegations, reported in Anchorage Press, that Morgan made missteps managing the finances of Choices, Inc, a behavioral health nonprofit.
Morgan dodged direct questions about whether masks are an effective tool in reducing the spread of COVID-19, claiming he wears an N95 mask “when needed” and saying he follows the guidelines of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masking. Neither Morgan nor any of the six members of the Assembly wore masks during the working session. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends masking in public, even for those vaccinated, in indoor spaces in places with high levels of transmission. Anchorage is one of those places.
Morgan also made a number of verbal slips during the hearing, calling the coronavirus “Corvid”, referring to former Anchorage epidemiologist Janet Johnston as “Jane” and misrepresenting the chief medical officer’s last name. of Alaska’s Anne Zink as “Zinkle”.
Morgan defended his qualifications for the job, highlighting his years of experience in healthcare organizations.
“All I can say is: 40 years of experience working in every healthcare facility imaginable, from letters of approval from CEOs to doctors, governors and mayors,” he said. declared.
Another issue was Morgan’s choice for chief medical officer Dr. Michael Savitt, a pediatrician who has spent most of his career practicing in New Mexico. Assembly members asked about the social media posts and other online comments Morgan and Savitt have made, denying the effectiveness of the masks and suggesting COVID-19 is a hoax.
Members expressed concern about Savitt’s experience. Morgan described Savitt as having “a lot of experience in the field of infectious diseases.” Savitt’s resume shows that Savitt has worked as a pediatrician in several states and as a health care administrator, but has no specific infectious disease training or public health experience.
Savitt has often criticized the Assembly. An account in Savitt’s name posted comments on a Conservative blog accusing members of “acting like petty bullies” and saying the public should tell the congregation to “go to hell.”
In response, Morgan said Savitt would be in his post until the city could find someone with expertise in epidemiology.
“It doesn’t give much confidence to know that we have replaced someone credible with someone with a colorful past in the Assembly. And beyond that, the experience is questionable compared to what you have suggested, ”Assembly member Chris Constant said at the hearing.
Morgan faces a confirmation vote at the regular assembly meeting next Tuesday. It needs six votes to be approved.