Gov. Jim Justice again said he forced the resignation of State Health Officer Cathy Slemp without providing any more detail about why he drew that conclusion.
Justice pushed out Slemp on Wednesday while West Virginia continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“To just tell it straight up like it is, numerous things have led me all along the way to believe that my confidence level just evaporated,” the governor said Friday afternoon.
He continued, “And so, you know, I felt like Dr. Slemp’s a good person and I know she’s done some good work and we’re very proud of her in this pandemic. This is a great big, big, big task, and there’s lots of moving parts, and from the standpoint of what you expect from me, you expect results. You don’t expect just kindness and effort. You expect results.
“So from that standpoint, I had lost confidence. There’s no point in belaboring that. But many, many different incidences.”
He did not elaborate on the incidences.
Slemp’s ouster was among the first matters Justice addressed during a regular briefing Friday.
The only specific incident that Justice has described involved active cases in a single county.
Justice, during a regular coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, expressed outrage over discrepancies with a sub-set of statistics.
West Virginia experienced a coronavirus outbreak at Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County a few weeks ago. As inmates and staff have recovered, an online listing for Huttonsville has been updated to show fewer “active” cases.
But the numbers for Randolph County — a separate listing — also should have shown fewer “active” cases, but there was apparently a lag.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources released an explanation saying that happened because the data was being collected in concert with the local health department and had to be entered manually.
However, “We know exactly how many cases we have in Randolph County,” Randolph Elkins Health Department Infectious Disease Specialist Bonnie Woodrum told The Inter-Mountain newspaper Thursday.
Justice has described the statistics as an inaccuracy that could affect his credibility as he communicates with the public about the coronavirus pandemic.
“If in fact what has happened — and we’re digging, we’re digging, we’re digging — but we have every reason to believe right now that we’ve just stumbled and bumbled along all over ourselves, and everything” Justice said today. “And that’s what I can’t stand. I can’t stand the stumbling and the bumbling.”
Leaders at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where Slemp was a graduate, sharply criticized the decision to force her resignation.
“We are stunned and troubled,” wrote leaders at the school.
“Her steady leadership has helped protect the health and lives of people in West Virginia amid the pandemic.”
We are stunned and troubled that Dr. Cathy Slemp, the Commissioner of Health in West Virginia and a distinguished graduate of @JohnsHopkinsSPH, was asked to resign.
— Ellen MacKenzie (@EllenJMacKenzie) June 25, 2020
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, wrote a statement questioning Slemp’s ouster.
“Neither the timing nor the wisdom of this decision makes any sense to me since I know Dr. Slemp to be an incredibly well-trained, reliable and compassionate health leader,” wrote Fleischauer, the longest-serving member of the House Health Committee.
Fleischauer noted cuts in recent years to West Virginia’s public health employment and budget.
“Instead of getting rid of a valuable team player over a relatively minor issue, what the Justice administration should be doing is working with the Legislature on improving public health policy, resources, and infrastructure for the future,” Fleischauer wrote.
She noted that among Justice’s advisors who have appeared with him each day during the pandemic response, Slemp was the only woman.
“And who will lead the lead the agency now?” Fleischauer asked.
Asked that question during Friday’s briefing, Justice said an answer will be forthcoming soon. He said state leaders interviewed a candidate the prior day.
“We’ll be filling that position ASAP. It will not be long at all,” Justice said.