Spokane health district fires two leaders heavily involved in pandemic response

click to enlarge The cuts keep coming at Spokane Regional Health District: Two more leaders were fired Monday, Dec. 6. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO

Young Kwak photo

The cuts keep coming at Spokane Regional Health District: Two more leaders were fired Monday, Dec. 6.

Spokane Regional Health District is further tightening its belt after the passage of its 2022 budget. As part of that process, at least two more management positions were unexpectedly eliminated Monday morning, Dec. 6, including the highest-level leader of the division that’s been most involved in the district’s pandemic response.

Three out of five division director positions at the district have been empty for months. District Administrative Officer Amelia Clark explained to Board of Health members in recent months that her proposed budget would combine some of those roles to save money.

But Monday morning, staff learned that the new structure also includes the elimination of two more managers, which came as a shock to many. Two leaders were escorted from the building on Monday after being informed they were being placed on paid leave until Jan. 1, 2022, when they will no longer work for the district.

Concerned staff members shared video recordings of an all-staff meeting with the Inlander, in which Clark explains who was let go and which divisions will be combined.

One of the people fired Monday was Tiffany Turner, the associate director of disease prevention and response.

“I think ‘It sucks’ is a great way of saying it. It sucks.”

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Turner had been serving as the de facto head of that division since former division director Lyndia Wilson retired earlier this year. Without a division director in place, Turner’s leadership has been viewed by some staff as especially key as another longtime supervisor in that division geared up to retire last week. Turner declined to comment when a third party reached out to her on behalf of the Inlander.

The other person fired was Donna Oliver, the manager of the district’s Healthy Neighborhoods program. In that role, she oversaw community health workers who are helping respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those workers conduct community outreach for vaccinations and testing, and previously helped with the district’s isolation facility. Oliver did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move left some staffers not knowing who they should report to, though Clark assured staff in the districtwide call that they would be informed who their managers are by the end of the day.

“This is such a shock to all of us, that the lack of transition, is… it just sucks. I don’t know what else to say about it,” one staffer said during a recorded clip of the meeting that the Inlander viewed. The staff member asked why the women couldn’t be allowed to work over the next few weeks to at least ease the transition.

“Yeah it sucks… I think ‘It sucks’ is a great way of saying it. It sucks,” Clark responded. “I think that we have to look at all the different angles and in terms of transition and in terms of how we figure out next steps, I have to do things based on the information that I have and that I can process.”

Clark also said she was frustrated she wasn’t able to start the process sooner.

SRHD spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins tells the Inlander that the two positions were cut, and a health equity manager position was created in the Community Health division, following decisions by the Board of Health’s budget and finance committee.

“I think all the decisions being made have been about cost savings and also keeping that focus on equity within the community,” Hawkins says.

There was a lot of effort to make as small of an impact as possible, she says.

Health board Chair Mary Kuney, who is also a Spokane County commissioner, did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

The health board approved the final $47.8 million budget on Dec. 2, and the district is waiting to hear if Spokane County will approve a budget ask of $1.98 million toward that total.

As part of the new structure, Clark told staff that Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez will now oversee the Disease Prevention and Response division, in addition to his duties as health officer.

Wilson, who used to oversee that division, was surprised to hear about the changes from staff on Monday and questioned how it’s possible for the health officer to also oversee the day-to-day responsibilities of that role.

“Who’s doing the day-to-day contracts management, grant management, budgets, hiring, personnel reviews, all of that?” Wilson asked. “He’s not going to have time to do all of that.”

The Disease Prevention and Response division also saw the retirement last week of Susan Sjoberg, the program manager who oversaw communicable diseases, epidemiology and immunizations within that department.

“So they have nobody in management overseeing emergency response, STDs, HIV, communicable diseases and immunizations, in the middle of a pandemic,” Wilson says. “I’m just so stunned about the whole thing.”

Hawkins says the district is in the process of hiring Sjoberg’s replacement, and they have full confidence Velázquez can handle overseeing the division.

“He’s managed large companies and organizations in his career,” Hawkins says. “I have every faith he’ll be able to manage this disease prevention and response group as well.”

She says that multiple other well-qualified managers are still in place in that division.

Here’s the final district budget as approved by the health board on Dec. 2:
Article Source: Inlander