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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

W.Va. Commissioner For Public Health Ousted After COVID-19 Data Inaccuracies

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Office of Gov. Jim Justice
Pictured seated left to right, DHHR Sec. Bill Crouch, state health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp, DMAPS Sec. Jeff Sandy and state supreintendent of schools Clayton Burch give an update on the coronavirus on Wednesday, Mar. 11, 2020.

West Virginia Commissioner for Public Health Dr. Cathy Slemp has resigned following public criticisms from Governor Jim Justice. 

In his virtual press briefing Wednesday, Justice said officials recently discovered that some coronavirus case numbers were reported incorrectly. Justice used Huttonsville prison as an example, saying while the total number of cases had dropped at the facility following an outbreak at the end of May, reporting from Randolph County had not taken the recoveries there into account, artificially boosting the state’s active case numbers.

Justice said it wasn’t clear what happened and officials didn’t say whether other counties had similar inaccuracies. 

The governor said the data error was “inaccurate on the good side for us” but expressed frustration at the finding. 

“There's either a breakdown at the local level or there's a breakdown within our level,” he said.  

Four hours later, the Justice administration issued a press release saying Dr. Slemp had handed in her resignation. The press release said Justice told Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch he had lost confidence in Dr. Slemp due to a “series of recent events involving issues under her direct control.”

The press release offered few specifics, but in the earlier press conference, Justice did not mince words. 

“If we were on our game here in DHHR, in Dr. Slemp’s office, if we're on our game and you're listening to the governor say that there are six active cases at Huttonsville and you’re looking at the reports that you’re putting together and sending it to me on active cases and you’re looking at Randolph County and they’re reporting 100 and some odd cases, then you’re not doing your job.”

According to the press release, following his conversation with Gov. Justice, Secretary Crouch asked for Dr. Slemp’s resignation, which she offered immediately. 

Slemp was in the job for just over a year. She started working for the DHHR in 1994 as the founding director of the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology. She subsequently directed the state's emergency preparedness efforts and served as acting state health officer for the DHHR from 2002 to 2011. She left the agency in 2011 before returning in 2018. 

In her resignation letter Slemp said “COVID is a crisis unlike what many of us have ever seen ... It is with mutual respect, support, a willingness to look at and understand both the science and the factors that drive them, and a dedication to moving forward together that will get the state through this together.”

Appalachia Helth News

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.

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