Local leaders, organizations react to Lutz’s departure from Spokane Regional Health District

SPOKANE, Wash. — Local leaders and organizations are responding to Dr. Bob Lutz’s abrupt departure from the Spokane Regional Health District.

Administrative Officer Amelia Clark said Lutz is no longer serving as the county’s health officer, but has repeatedly refused to comment on whether he was terminated or resigned on his own.

During a press conference, Clark and public information officer Kelli Hawkins said they could not comment on the situation, citing “personnel” matters.

The reason behind Lutz’s departure remains unknown, but many people were quick to comment on the situation.

Mayor Nadine Woodward released the following statement:

“Dr. Lutz has faced an extremely tough challenge over an extended time and gave everything he had to the community. Spokane and the state were the first to take the national stage in February. We have been learning about the virus as we go and those long months since have left our region anxious, tired, and frustrated that we are not progressing as fast as everyone had hoped. This is a community health and economic emergency and it takes partnership and community to solve it; we will rally together as Spokane always does. Please continue to put your loved ones, friends, neighbors, and colleagues first as you remain resilient and practice good mask etiquette and hand hygiene.”

State Representative Marcus Riccelli quickly responded to Woodward’s comment saying the following:

When asked to comment on the transition, a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Health (DOH) shared a statement thanking Dr. Lutz for his service to Spokane County. Wa Doh On Lutz Statement

 

Fran Bessermin, who has served on the Washington State Board of Health alongside Dr. Lutz shared her reaction to the news with 4 News Now. She said, in part, that she has the deepest respect for his dedication to regional health.

Fran Bessermin Quote On Lutz

 

 

 

Spokane County Democrats also released a statement:

“The Spokane County Democrats remain united in our support of science. Dr. Lutz has been a strong advocate in keeping our community safe, offering critical guidance at a time when our residents’ health and safety are threatened.

The decision by the Spokane Regional Health District Board to force out Spokane County’s health officer amid a pandemic is unconscionable. Just yesterday, Spokane reported four additional COVID-19 related deaths and crossed over the barrier of 200 total deaths since the start of the pandemic. The district confirmed 112 new cases yesterday. In what universe is eliminating the public health officer from the county the  appropriate response to surging cases and continued deaths?

Equally concerning is the lack of transparency in the process to remove Dr. Lutz from his critical role of Public Health Officer. The meeting was not open to the public, and not even the Board of Health had the opportunity to vote on this. The press conference today was a farce. The press conference offered no explanations. Just this week, Dr. Lutz was rewarded with the 2020 Sister Peter Claver Humanitarian Award, which Spokane Regional Health District touted with pride. It’s hard to see this decision to remove Dr. Lutz as anything other than a political choice.

Removing our county’s public health officer amid a major public health crisis is negligent at best and maliciously reckless at worst.

At this stage, we still have no clear answers about who will be making critical public health decisions. Our community needs experienced guidance and a public health official who lets science guide their decisions. Dr. Lutz was this trusted person. Now, we are left to wonder what will come of those who deny the importance of wearing masks. Dr. Lutz’s removal may be seen as invalidating Dr. Lutz’s pleas regarding the importance of masks.

Our community is vulnerable right now. Lives are in danger, and as a county, we can’t neglect the needs of the most vulnerable among us who are particularly threatened by the pandemic. The decision to remove Dr. Lutz is an asinine and negligent decision that will imperil lives.

With only four days until the election, we urge you to consider this flippant approach to human lives when you cast your ballots. Ted Cummings and David Green, both candidates for County Commissioner, both offer assurances that they would respect science and fight for our community’s public health protections. Both candidates can unseat Commissioner Kearns and Commissioner Kuney. Please take this into consideration as you fill out your ballot.

Finally, if you rightfully oppose this decision, please file a complaint at www.srhd.org/complaints.”

Whitworth President Beck Taylor said his head was “spinning.” He attributed Whitworth’s success in handling COVID-19 to Lutz’s leadership.

Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh said in a tweet that he hopes the boar reconsiders its decision.

The Vice President of WSU Health Sciences, as well as several other administrators released a statement Saturday, sharing support for Dr. Lutz.

“Dr. Lutz has not only provided steady leadership during an impossibly difficult time as we navigate a global pandemic, he is a well-known and greatly appreciated faculty member in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine,” the statement reads in part. You can read it in full HERE.

Also on Saturday, Whitworth University President Beck A. Taylor wrote a letter addressed to the Spokane Regional Board of Health, asking members to reconsider removing him from his position as health officer.

“Dr. Lutz has been an invaluable partner to me and to Whitworth University’s COVID-19 response efforts,” Taylor says in the statement.

Health district employees also gathered outside of the Spokane Regional Health District office on Friday protesting Lutz’s departure. One employee told 4 News Now the move was “shocking” and said there is serious concern as to why this happened.

“We just lost our leader,” they said.

This story will be updated as additional statements are released.