Washoe epidemiologist excoriates health officer for forcing him to retire amid pandemic

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In a letter to the Washoe Board of Health, the county’s former head of epidemiology excoriated the health officer who forced his retirement, saying Kevin Dick is unqualified, doesn’t value transparency and hamstrung the epidemiology division prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As far as I am aware, in the years since he became (district health officer), Mr. Dick has done nothing to warrant the position of health officer…,” Dr. Randall Todd wrote in his letter, “yet has been given the authority to make appalling decisions.”

Dick demanded Todd’s resignation in a personal meeting April 24. While Todd’s last day was originally set for Friday, it has been moved back a week until May 8, Todd said in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal on Sunday.

Dick has not commented on his reasons for asking Todd to step down, citing advice from human resources to not comment on employee matters. On Friday, two Washoe County commissioners said they also were in the dark about Dick’s decision to force out Todd.

In his letter, Todd said he believes Dick has been after his resignation since he was appointed district health officer in 2014. Todd said he supported Dick’s predecessor, which may have created some animosity between the two.

“I have lived my life by the maxim that ‘bad things persist when good people do nothing’,” Todd wrote. “I am not willing to have my 40-year career end under the cloud that Kevin Dick has caused.”

Todd’s letter also did little to shed light on why he was asked to resign, but rather buttresses talk the two men haven’t gotten along. 

Todd maintains Dick is unqualified for his position because he lacks a terminal degree in public health.

“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,” wrote Todd, who has 40 years in public health, including as Nevada’s State Epidemiologist. “Even if Mr. Dick met the minimum qualifications to be (district health officer), he still lacks the education, credentials, and public health experience and working relationship with the public and the media.”

In a statement Sunday, Dick said he “must make decisions based on what is best for our community and the organization.”

“I have  a 34-year career dedicated to protecting public health,” Dick said. “I appreciate everything Dr. Todd has done in his 14 years at the Health District. It’s unfortunate that he fails to recognize the expertise of the epidemiology staff and the hard work that has been done by the entire Health District.

“I will not comment further on this matter as I am focusing my efforts on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In 2015, the Reno Gazette Journal’s fact checker found Dick meets the minimum qualifications set forth in state law for the position.

In a brief interview Sunday, Todd said Dick began sidelining him several weeks ago, failing to involve him in decisions about the district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I had been sort of excluded from a lot of the pandemic response for a few weeks,” Todd said. “Early on I was involved but then as things went along found myself out in the cold.”

Epidemiology program manager Heather Kerwin has been taking the lead in response to the coronavirus pandemic, working long hours and representing the division at recent press conferences.

Todd said Dick has been short-changing the epidemiology division for years, failing to keep it adequately funded and staffed by giving at least one position to another division.

“He has made life difficult for me personally and for the (epidemiology division) staff by crippling the programs, which are now desperately needed,” Todd wrote.

Dick recently added the position back to the epidemiology division.

Todd also criticized Dick’s ability to communicate with the public during the pandemic.

“Mr. Dick’s relationship with the media is lacking the level and competence of an experienced public health professional, likely resulting from a deficient background in public health and epidemiology,” Todd wrote. “When he has been interviewed he looks like a ‘deer caught in the headlights,’ and has not been transparent with data.”

“In these troubling times with a worldwide pandemic, there is a great need for education of the public and transparency,” Todd said.

Read the entire letter here.

Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at adamon@rgj.com or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.

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