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SRHD begins national search for new Spokane health officer after Dr. Lutz's firing

There is now a job posting for the role of Spokane Regional Health Officer and the health district is searching for qualified applications nationwide.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Regional Health District is beginning the process of hiring a new health officer after the firing of Dr. Bob Lutz, Administrative Officer Amelia Clark said during the Board of Health's monthly meeting on Thursday. 

After serving as health officer for more than three years and leading Spokane County through the coronavirus pandemic, Clark asked Lutz to resign and he was subsequently fired in a board meeting. There was significant public outcry with thousands of emails submitted to the board in support of Dr. Lutz. 

After Lutz's firing, the board appointed Dr. Francisco "Frank" Velasquez as a temporary replacement who is only serving part-time. Board members voted unanimously to officially approve his appointment as interim health officer on Thursday. 

Clark said the job posting was officially posted one day earlier and the health district is searching for qualified candidates across the country. 

KREM livestreamed the meeting on YouTube and provided live updates in this story. 

Find live updates from the meeting below.

Live meeting updates

1:46 p.m.: Lyndia Wilson, Disease Prevention and Response Director for SRHD, said during the meeting that Spokane County is seeing an average of 350 COVID-19 cases daily, with most cases reported in people between the ages of 20 to 60 years old. There have been 15 outbreaks reported in long-term care facilities. 

Health officials are focusing on the prison system and homeless shelters to help control outbreaks. 

1:33 p.m.: SRHD Administrative Officer Amelia Clark said the job posting for a permanent Spokane Regional Health Officer was officially posted online on Wednesday, Dec. 2. It will be a nationwide candidate search, she added.

Clark also provided more information on the timeline for finding a new health officer. 

Questions on the job posting are due by Dec. 16, 2020, and the proposal submission deadline is set for Dec. 18. SRHD would then be able to review applications on Dec. 21.

1:29 p.m.: Board of Health unanimously votes to appoint Millwood Mayor Kevin Freeman as 2021 Vice Chair. 

1:28 p.m.: Board of Health unanimously votes to appoint Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney as 2021 Chair.

1:13 p.m.: Board of Health members return from executive session and unanimously vote in favor of officially appointing Dr. Francisco "Frank" Velasquez as interim health officer. 

12:50 p.m.: Executive session of board meeting extended by another 15 minutes.

12:35 p.m.: Spokane County Board of Health goes into executive session for 15 minutes. 

Dr. Velasquez currently serving part-time as interim health officer

After the health board voted to fire Dr. Lutz on Nov. 5, its members unanimously voted to replace him with Dr. Francisco "Frank" Velasquez. He is currently working part-time as interim health officer.

RELATED: New interim health officer for Spokane will be working part-time as COVID-19 cases spike

Some Spokane County residents have expressed concerns about Dr. Velasquez's service as interim health officer. In emails obtained by KREM, one resident wrote that he is "not qualified to serve as interim health officer per statute."

"He does not have an MPH or equivalent degree, nor is there evidence of public health experience on his resume. Dr. Valazquez [sic] is outright unqualified," the email reads. 

The email also alleges that Velasquez canceled a meeting of Spokane's Disaster Clinical Advisory Executive Committee on Nov. 19, and has yet to meet with 19 counties and four tribes of eastern Washington that are involve in the Crisis Standards of Care Regional Triage Team.

KREM has reached out to a spokesperson with SRHD for a response. 

Apart from his service as interim health officer, Velasquez has been involved in the local COVID-19 response as part of a testing task force for the state and region. 

Most of Velazquez's recent work appears to be in medical consulting and administration, but he is a doctor.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he obtained his M.D. at the Universidad Central del Caribe in Puerto Rico, then later a master's degree in healthcare management from Harvard University.

He was formerly the president and CEO of Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories, a Spokane-based lab company.

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