Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the recently fired director of the Tennessee Department of Health’s (TDH) Vaccine-Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program (VPDIP), blasted Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey this week for the latter’s handling of a $26.5 million COVID-testing contract.
“We knew that she was not being truthful with that committee,” Fiscus said to NewsChannel 5, referring to testimony Piercey gave before the state legislature last December. “When she was pressed on certain issues, she was not being truthful.”
Fiscus is alleging when Piercey testified about the no-bid contract with Nomi Health, she was untruthful about key aspects of the deal. In particular, the former official says the commissioner wrongly testified that Nomi was initially recommended by “another state that had success” with the company. Fiscus also has said the state’s director of laboratory services, Dr. Richard Steece, had not been consulted with regard to the contract and he was not worried about the quality of the testing performed by the company.
Steece had in fact emailed senior TDH officials before he was certain the contract was agreed to, “Please tell me we can get out of this contract? Or better yet it has not been signed?”
Steece and his deputy director Dr. Kara Levinson would eventually raise issues with the testing quality provided by Nomi, specifically that the company’s tests would produce “false negative” diagnoses. Such results would lead to the collapse of the agreement with Nomi, with reportedly no utile services ever being rendered. TDH declined to elaborate on Piercey’s previous insistence that her testimony was accurate.
“Dr. Piercey stands by her testimony given to the Fiscal Review Committee last year,” Bill Christian, a spokesman for TDH, told The Tennessee Star in an email.
Fiscus has, of course, a rocky past with her former employer. She was dismissed from TDH on July 12 after the department’s Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones listed to Piercey a number of problems he perceived with Fiscus’s job performance.
Jones’s memo took aim at Fiscus’s “failure to maintain good working relationships with members of her team, her lack of effective leadership, her lack of appropriate management, and unwillingness to consult with superiors and other internal stakeholders on VPDIP projects.” Jones furthermore alleged that Fiscus wanted to steer VPDIP funding to a nonprofit that was “founded and led by Dr. Fiscus, had no Executive Director or other employees, and had no substantive source of funding.”
Fiscus has herself attributed her termination to the disapproval of Tennessee legislators about TDH’s effort to get many minors vaccinated against COVID. Those supposedly included Fiscus publicizing the “mature minor” doctrine.
The doctrine, which originated from the 1987 Cardwell v. Bechtol state Supreme Court case, maintains that children between the ages of seven and 14 generally should be vaccinated only with their parents’ consent unless a law specifically bars the practice. Children between 14 and 18, according to the doctrine, can generally be treated without parental consent.
The Cardwell ruling embraced a “rebuttable presumption” that children between seven and 14 have no capacity to make their own medical decisions. The decision said a rebuttable presumption of capacity to make such decisions should be accorded to children between 14 and 18, unless a physician judges the teen insufficiently mature to understand the choice at hand. The doctrine expressed by the court is not codified in Tennessee statute.
Upon being fired, Fiscus lashed out at an “uneducated public” for criticism leveled at her and others at TDH.
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Bradley Vasoli is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Dr. Michelle Fiscus” by the TN Dept of Health.