Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Health District staff, Velazquez deserve support during trying time

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It’s become clear that the ham-handed handling of Dr. Bob Lutz’s dismissal as Spokane County’s regional health officer couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As the number of COVID-19 cases skyrockets and the Spokane medical community becomes taxed under that burden, however, it’s time to put that issue aside and focus on supporting Lutz’s temporary replacement, Dr. Francisco Velazquez, and the rest of the health district staff. Velazquez deserves the opportunity to do the job to the best of his ability, for as long as he is needed.

And right now, competent medical minds are needed more than ever.

In November, the daily average number of new cases in Spokane County came in at 240, with a high of 499 cases on Nov. 23. During the first seven months of the pandemic, the one-day peak was 170.

Just over a fifth of the deaths attributed to the virus in the county—56 of 262—occurred in November, and 83 people diagnosed with COVID-19 were being hospitalized here with the virus as of Dec. 1.

That paints a grisly picture, especially considering much of this rampant spread has occurred amidst Washington Gov. Jay Inslee putting new restrictions in place midway through the month in an effort to stem the spread. 

Velazquez finds himself in a leadership role at the health district during this tumultuous time. Known in Spokane mostly as the former president and CEO of Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories, the health care veteran has been a vocal supporter of life sciences as an economic driver in the Spokane community, as well as a civic leader. The health officer position doesn’t appear to be one he coveted, but rather a position he stepped into when needed.

He carries the interim tag, and it’s unclear how long he’ll serve in that position. Regardless of the length of his tenure, Velazquez deserves our support and gratitude.

The Washington state Board of Health is conducting a preliminary investigation of health district administrative officer Amelia Clark and her handling of Lutz’s firing. It’s unclear what will come out of that. 

Regardless, it’s clear the issue could have been handled more professionally by both Clark and the health district board. When the dust settles, both should take responsibility and look closely at how what essentially is a personnel issue became such a public spectacle.

Some, including state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, of Spokane, have proposed shifting the composition of health district boards so they include more medical professionals and fewer elected officials. It’s an idea worth considering. That said, one could argue the Lutz controversy has been politicized by those who aren’t on the board more than those who serve in that capacity. 

At the end of the day, the community needs and deserves functional, competent leadership at the health district. Let’s support Velazquez and the scientists working with him in providing just that.

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