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Epidemiologist: County Health Officer not qualified for COVID-19 response

By Bob Conrad

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Washoe County Health District’s epidemiologist, Dr. Randall Todd, said today he was forced out of his position by his boss, the county Health Officer Kevin Dick. He also said Dick is not qualified for his job.

“I am not willing to have my 40-year career end under the cloud that Kevin Dick has caused. In my opinion, he has been after my resignation since he became the Washoe County District Health Officer (DHO),” Todd said. “This is a position for which he is totally unqualified. He has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, is certified as a Nevada Certified Environmental Manager with expertise in Air Quality, and absolutely no public health experience.”

Todd sent a letter to elected officials and local media today after the Reno Gazette Journal reported Todd was allegedly being ousted by Dick.

“Even if Mr. Dick met the minimum qualifications to be DHO, he still lacks the education, credentials, and public health experience and working relationship with the public and the media,” Todd said. He cited Dick’s noted refusal to respond to reporter questions, including Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“When he has been interviewed he looks like a ‘deer caught in the headlights,’ and has not been transparent with data,” Todd wrote. “Answering reporters’ questions with ‘I don’t have the data in front of me,” or ‘No comment’ is code for ‘I do not know the answers because I am not prepared,’ or worse yet, ‘It is none of your business.’ In these troubling times with a worldwide pandemic, there is a great need for education of the public and transparency.”

Todd, who retired apparently at the behest of Dick, said he is considering “the possibility of retaining legal counsel to prevent Mr. Dick from besmirching an exemplary 40-year career as a public servant.

Dick, in response, said Todd “fails to recognize the expertise of the epidemiology staff and the hard work that has been done by the entire Health District.”

“As the District Health Officer, I must make decisions based on what is best for our community and the organization. I serve as the Health Officer because I was requested to do so by the District Board of Health in 2013,” Dick said. “I have  a 34-year career dedicated to protecting public health. I appreciate everything Dr. Todd has done in his 14 years at the Health District.”

Todd has an advanced public health degree and 40 years of experience, including as state epidemiologist for state’s public health division.

Health District accused of hiding information

The Health District has been the subject of a number of news stories for alleged lack of transparency.

It was noted in an investigation in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Saturday. The article indicated the Washoe County Health District was claiming confidentiality on Nevada Hospital Association reports about coronavirus cases.

The Health District’s public information officer Scott Oxarart said the district considered the reports confidential because the Hospital Association considered them confidential.

“Because the NHA considers the documents to be confidential they have notified recipients that they will no longer provide these reports to any recipient who discloses the report,” Oxarart told the Review Journal. The RJ quoted open government advocates saying the Health District’s response violates open records statutes.

Dick has been criticized publicly and off the record by a number of local officials — not just for the handling of the cororavirus pandemic. This Is Reno reporting from two years ago found a number of critics—including small business owners, contractors, former employees, and high-level local government officials—who said that the district is overreaching its authority.

They claimed the Health District was ramping up enforcement of health codes to pad its budget, among numerous complaints.

Public records show Health District staff were texting one another making a denigrating comment about a speaker advocating for a client during public comment at a Washoe County Board of Health meeting.

Public records from 2019 showed staff making similar comments about This Is Reno’s reporting on the Health District, claiming our reporting was enacted to generate clicks. (The reporting was in response to reader tips expressing concern about the behavior of high-level Health District staff.)

Health Officer Dick reports to the District Board of Health, not the county manager. Critics have advocated for that structure to change.

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