Former state environmental health official thought Flint water crisis might 'embarrass' governor

Linda Dykema, former MDHHS Director of Division of Environmental Health, testifies in Eden Wells prelim exam on 5/30/2018
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FLINT (WJRT) - (05/30/18) - The state's top doctor was back in a Genesee County courtroom to continue a preliminary exam that's been ongoing since the fall of 2017.

Michigan's chief medical executive Dr. Eden Wells was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a peace officer during the attorney general's investigation into the Flint Water Emergency.

In October of 2017 Wells was also accused of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office by the prosecution.

Dr. Linda Dykema took the stand for the first time Wednesday. The former director of the state's division of environmental health testified that she learned about a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County from Corinne Miller on Jan. 28, 2015.

Miller, the former state director of disease control and Dykema's supervisor, took a plea deal in her own Flint water criminal case in September 2016 in exchange for her cooperation. Miller has since
testified in the ongoing criminal proceedings of MDHHS health chief Nick Lyon.

Special prosecutor Todd Flood focused on Miller and Dykema's January 2015 meeting, in which they talked about possible fallout relating to the water source switch.

"Yes, we discussed the political implications," Dykema said.

"And, your belief that the -- you -- when you're discussing this is -- in back and forth dialogue -- is that the city of Flint, Dr. Dykema, because the water is bad and it was done under an emergency manager. That's what you discussed. It may make the governor look bad or it may make the director [Nick Lyon] look bad. That's where your mind was, correct," said special prosecutor Todd Flood.

"Specifically that it might embarrass the governor," Dykema said.

"Specifically that it might embarrass the governor. Two people in public service, protecting the health of citizens, have a conversation and your conversation, Dr. Dykema is, in your mind, this may embarrass the governor, right?" Todd asked.

"Corinne Miller told me that," Dykema said.

Dykema testified that following her conversation with Miller, she emailed her staff to tell them that any questions about Flint should be directed to her, and that "there is a political situation" that they don't want to "stumble into" should they start to get phone calls.

Dykema told the prosecutor that she didn't talk about legionella bacteria with Wells until later in the summer of 2015.

"We began to have conversations probably in late August and then proceeding through 2015 and onwards," Dykema said.

The Legionnaires' outbreak of 2014 and 2015 killed at least a dozen people and hospitalized dozens more. Wells was not appointed as chief medical executive by Snyder until May 2015, according to the state's website.

Wells, along with other top current and former officials, is accused of not telling the public fast enough.

Dykema supported the previous testimony of Jim Henry. The Genesee County Health Department supervisor testified in November 2017 that he was frustrated by the state's response to their request for public materials related to lead poisoning.

"You were frustrated by that," Flood asked during cross examination.

"Yes, I was," Dykema replied.

"Because the people that ran the department of health and human services that you work for didn't get the material out to the citizens about lead and water fast enough," Flood said.

"That's correct," Dykema said.

Cheryl Rockefeller, a former assistant executive assistant to Wells, also testified in court Wednesday.

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