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State health worker blames county health department for poor handling of Legionella outbreak

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112917 wells court wednesday

(11/29/17) - A state health worker says the local health department was "not willing to issue a public notice" about the deadly Legionnaires disease outbreak of 2014 and 2015 before it became public.

That testimony came during a hearing to determine whether the state's chief medical executive, Eden Wells, will face trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office and obstruction of justice.

Jay Fiedler, an epidemiologist supervisor with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the state has not made any conclusions about the cause of the Legionella outbreak.

Although Fiedler himself testified that people should have been notified in March 2015 of the deadly outbreak, he also placed blame on the Genesee County Health Department for failing to notify the public.

"You're saying that's not the Department of Health and Human Services' job? That should've been the local job," asked special prosecutor Todd Flood.

"I do believe that was the job of the local health department as the primary source of that information," Fiedler replied.

He had no recollection of conversations with Wells directly about a Legionella outbreak even though he says he first became aware of an uptick in October 2014.

Wells' attorney was quick to point out during cross examination that Wells was not in her current position at that time.

Fiedler said he "saw more of" Dr. Wells than he did of the previous chief medical executive, Matthew Davis, when asked to compare the two. He said she was more accessible.

Things got intense in court when Flood read text messages from the witness to his colleagues.

"'The reign of incompetence continues' as it relates to Genesee County and Jim Henry. Remember talking about that with your colleagues," Flood asked Fiedler. The exchange was broken up by Wells' attorney.

Earlier in the day, Fiedler said he had issues with the work of Dr. McElmurry and his team.

Dr. McElmurry is one of the Wayne State University researchers contracted by the state to investigate the Legionella outbreak and its connection to the water switch.

McElmurry along with colleagues Marcus Zervos and Paul Kilgore have testified in the criminal proceedings of MDHHS chief Nick Lyon.

During cross examination the court learned that Fiedler had an issue with Dr. Kilgore for requesting data without a data use agreement, a HIPAA violation.

Wells' attorney highlighted the communication between the state health department, local health department and McLaren Hospital.

Fiedler testified that the state had been working with the local health department in late January 2015 to help provide them with information to give to the public and clinicians.

He reiterated, in response to Wells' attorney, that the state was only assisting.

"I don't recall them asking us to take over any aspect of this investigation," Fiedler said.

Earlier this month a supervisor at the Genesee County Health Department testified they were overwhelmed by the Legionella outbreak, and did not get the assistance they needed from the state.

Wells' hearing will pick back up on December 11.

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