Monday, April 8, 2019

For second time during big outbreak of hepatitis A, state health officials fire the manager of their Infectious Disease Branch

For the second time during the nation's worst outbreak of hepatitis A, state health officials have fired their top infectious-disease leader.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease.
"Dr. John Bennett, the state's Infectious Disease Branch manager since last fall, told the Courier Journal on Monday that he was dismissed last Friday," Chris Kenning reports for the Louisville newspaper. Bennett told Kenning that he wasn't given a specific reason for his dismissal. That is typical in such cases. He "said he had no information to suggest it was related to the state's recently criticized response to its hepatitis A outbreak," Kenning reports.

"First declared in November 2017, the outbreak later exploded in rural Kentucky, mainly among drug users, and grew into the nation's deadliest," Kenning notes. "The outbreak has since sickened 4,419 and killed 52, according to the latest state report released Monday. Kentucky has had more deaths than any of the other 17 states with similar hepatitis A outbreaks."

Bennett was hired last September to replace Dr. Robert Brawley, who was allowed to resign in lieu of fired on June 4, 2018. Brawley had "lobbied for a more aggressive state response to the outbreak," Kenning notes. "He recommended $6 million for vaccines and $4 million for temporary workers in thinly staffed local health departments and also called for a public health emergency declaration to help pave the way for federal assistance." Instead, "The Department for Public Health sent $2.2 million in state funds to local health departments and declined to declare an emergency."

The department's commissioner, Dr. Jeffrey Howard, "has told the Courier Journal that he was willing to seek more funding if needed."

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