(Pittsburgh) March 4, 2020 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner issued the following statement regarding the announcement of new Department of Health director Dr. Debra Bogen:
“While having in place a new Allegheny County Health Department director is certainly desirable given the critical challenges–globally and locally–that we face in the arena of public health, the more than nine-month period since Dr. Karen Hacker’s resignation announcement should have included robust public input and involvement and, ultimately, a public vetting of candidates under consideration. Instead, residents including health and environmental advocates had no indication where this process stood or that this announcement was imminent.
“It is important to remember that the recent, incremental improvements in Health Department enforcement of air quality regulations only followed scrutiny from my office through its performance audits and subsequent demands from the community. Similarly, the Department denied responsibility and failed to take meaningful action on Pittsburgh’s lead water crisis, and presented inaccurate blood lead testing data to the public. Accountability is what makes government work, and the public should have every confidence that these unfortunate episodes will not be repeated.
“A critical personnel decision affecting every resident of Allegheny County–especially the most vulnerable–should not have been made behind closed doors. Neither our elected representatives on County Council nor local public health advocates have vetted this appointment. Even the degree of involvement of the Board of Health, which is the direct authority over the Health Department, is unclear. Indeed, the Board of Health structure exists to ensure a qualified, independent department free from political interference. Today’s sudden announcement calls into serious question whether this is what we have.
“While I welcome Dr. Bogen and offer the full cooperation of my office in examining and improving Department functions, this secretive process has placed a great and undue burden on her to show the community she is best-equipped to meet the unique needs of Allegheny County.”