We’re joined LIVE by JB Smiley Jr., a Memphis councilman running for governor of Tennessee as a Democrat.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) September 15, 2021
SETTING A BAD EXAMPLE:
GOV. LEE’S FAILURE TO LEAD COMES AT GREAT COST
At Governor Lee’s press conferences, in the presence of statewide media and TV cameras, he presents himself as someone who personally believes masks work. It’s not that he shares the opinion of anti-mask extremists who think masks are tyranny, he assures us – it’s just that he believes people in Tennessee should have the final say over whether or not their kids wear masks to school.
Clearly he has done the polling and decided that middle ground is the safest place for him to live.
Not firmly on either side. One foot in each camp. Tell the pro-mask parents they’re right about the efficacy of masks, while telling the anti-mask parents they’re right about “freedom” and all that.
His opt out executive order was the legislative manifestation of this wishy-washiness – not a “mask mandate ban” by name, but one in spirit. It allowed the anti-maskers to feel like they had won, while allowing Lee to pretend he hadn’t actually banned mask mandates – even though he had (as a judge in Memphis seems to have figured out).
But underneath it all, Lee’s attempt to present himself as a personal believer in masks doesn’t pass the smell test. He may have spent state money on a “mask up” ad campaign… his Health Department may have “recommended” them… but if Lee really thinks they work, why isn’t he wearing one?
Why with cases skyrocketing and hospitalizations at all time highs was he just recently pictured with kids, inside a school, maskless? And why did he POST IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA, as if to say it was the right way to behave? Why even bother pretending to think masks are the right thing to do if he’s not going to lead by example?
The truth is, Lee is either an anti-masker at heart, or a coward.
If he truly believes wearing masks are the right thing to do, he should be doing it. But doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do is not in Lee’s DNA.
Leadership is simply not in his bag of tricks.
Lee has shown us time and again he will always say the most politically convenient thing in the moment. He will always follow the way he thinks the polling goes.
But leaders aren’t supposed to follow the way the wind is blowing. Leaders are supposed to lead.
And because our state doesn’t have a leader, but instead has a man in charge who is first and foremost worried about pandering to extremists, 27 school districts are closed, at least 8 teachers are dead, our hospitals are pleading for help, and we have the worst outbreak in the country (one of the worst in the world)
We are paying a heavy price for Lee’s failure to lead.
Setting a bad example comes at great cost.
Justin Kanew is the founder of the Tennessee Holler
LEE’S OPT OUT ORDER BLOCKED
U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman just issued a temporary restraining order sought by the parents of 2 kids with health problems who argue Lee’s opt out order endangers students with health conditions.
The Temporary Restraining Order remains in effect until Sept. 17. Yet again, Lee doesn’t pass laws, he passes lawsuits.
Meanwhile Governor Lee continues to do nothing to help teachers and students feel safe in our schools. TENNESSEAN EDITORIAL BOARD just called out Gov. Lee for being “reactive”, which is generous since he isn’t really reacting at all, and said he should rescind his mask mandate opt out order.
TEACHERS DYING don’t even seem to be moving him. In CHEATHAM COUNTY It seems yet another teacher died tragically of COVID, and SCIENCE HILL in Johnson City lost one also. Far too many Tennessee educators have been lost to this disease, while far too little is done.
Governor Lee has not mentioned them.
A KNOX TEACHER just came on the Holler to issue a plea TO LEE & OTHER LEADERS: “PLEASE HELP… every failure to take action affects the entire state, not just those in public education.”
Please keep speaking out. We’ll keep hollering the truth and trying to do our part. We’re able to do what we do because of your support, so if you’re not yet please consider chipping in – the monthly support truly keeps us going. No monthly amount is too small.
BUYING OR SELLING A HOME IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE? HOLLER AT REALTOR ELISA PARKER!
SERVING MIDDLE TN FOR 20+ YEARS…
SUPPORT US BY SUPPORTING HER!
Interested in sponsoring? Message us or email: TheTNHoller@gmail.com
1 IN 5000: “How small are the chances of the average vaccinated American contracting Covid? Probably about one in 5,000 per day, and even lower for people who take precautions or live in a highly vaccinated community.” #GetVaccinatedNow
A GRAPHIC from Williamson Medical Center showing how clear it is everyone should #GetVaccinatedNow.
SPONSORING THE WAR ON WOMEN: AT&T, NBC Universal, CVS Health and more are the biggest donors to the Republican politicians behind the Texas abortion bill/war on women… Yet they remain silent.
FLORIDA DOC WON’T TREAT THE UNVACCINATED ANYMORE: “This is where it draws the line in the sand for me.” – Dr. Linda Marraccini in FLORIDA is telling patients she won’t treat the UNVACCINATED in her office anymore.
BREAKING RECORDS: “Tennessee continues to set RECORD COVID-19 HOSPITALIZATION NUMBERS… 3,597 now hospitalized across the state…. 1020 in ICUs… 699 on ventilators… 74 of those hospitalized are children…”
LABOR DAY HYPOCRITES: Governor Lee had ZERO workers or worker reps on your COVID economic recovery group. He helped keep Volkswagen from unionizing. Republicans (Lee, Blackburn, Hagerty, etc) posting nice things about workers on Labor Day but fighting against unions, who started the holiday and gave us weekends, overtime, child labor laws, etc… should have all the seats.
LABOR DAY REMINDER: Unions and the middle class go hand in hand, and politicians who don’t support unions don’t really support workers. (Again: Anti-union Governor Lee had ZERO worker reps or workers on his COVID “economic recovery group”)
TN AFL CIO CHIEF BILLY DYCUS: “The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor…“Right to Work” laws originated during Jim Crow and strip workers from having a voice… it means LESS freedom for workers, NOT MORE.” #LaborDay #UnionStrong
IVERMECTIN CALLS: “The Tennessee Poison Center has seen a dramatic increase in calls for people experiencing issues after taking (horse de-wormer) IVERMECTIN for COVID-19”
Nice recap of how Governor Lee has *handled* COVID, with TN having the worst outbreak in the country – from the Williamson Young Dems.
RENKL: “We need to take health and public safety out of the hands of Republicans because this is not a game” – Margaret Renkl on how Governor Lee and Republican leadership throughout the South are exacerbating climate/COVID disasters… and costing lives.
WILLIAMSON COUNTY Moms for Liberty making it clear with this absurd post about American Girl dolls they have no clue what Critical Race Theory actually is, and proving all they care about is making sure our society stops fighting racism(PSA: Nobody is “color blind”. That’s a lie they tell themselves. The point isn’t to not see color, it’s to see all everyone’s uniqueness and differences and love each other for it.)
MEMPHIS MAGIC: “It’s important to get vaccinated… not only for yourself, but for those around you.” The great MAGIC JOHNSON gives SHELBY COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT JORIS RAY an assist to tout the vaccine. (90%+ of those hospitalized are unvaccinated)
“HOST BODY”: Florida’s former GOP Speaker of the House repeatedly calls a pregnant woman a “host body” But sure, let’s keep letting these guys dictate women’s reproductive rights
HOLLERIN’ ON TAMRON HALL: “At the end of the day, if we’re wrong about the efficacy of masks- sorry, you had to wear a mask. But if you’re wrong, someone dies or our kids get sick.” Yesterday the Holler’s Justin Kanew joined THE TAMRON HALL SHOW to discuss the chaotic Williamson Board meeting.
TAMRON HALL DISMANTLES ROD LUNN: Who threatened the dad in Williamson County… the guy humiliated himself further. Obvious limelight chaser. He’s a party to lawsuits against masks where he claims to have asthma, yet oddly never mentions it.
The kids are alright
Please consider CHIPPING IN MONTHLY to help us grow… make it $10 and we’ll send you a holler hat! (note your address on PayPal and
which color you want when you chip in)
Now on CASH APP: $TNHoller
Tennessee has made the national news more than our share lately. One of the most recent instances was the political firing of Dr. Michelle Fiscus over the Health Department’s outreach to teens for the COVID-19 vaccine. We won’t go into all the details here, but the bottom line is she shared a summary of existing case law with vaccine providers which stated that teens over 14 were able to get vaccinated without a parent’s permission.
Republicans didn’t like that (even though it’s STILL state policy). They made a big stink over it, and the marketing to teens – only one problem: Fiscus had not been responsible for that marketing. Governor Lee’s office had. Lee’s office had also blessed the summary Fiscus shared. But Republican legislators were out for blood, and the sword fell on Dr. Fiscus.
She was fired, although neither Health Dept. Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey or Governor Lee would say why at the time. Lee pointed to Piercey, saying it was her decision, although he claimed not to even have asked her why she made it.
“I haven’t discussed that with her.”
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) July 22, 2021
On her way out Dr. Fiscus pulled no punches. She gave interviews about the mess that was going on inside the health department, even sharing details about a no-bid contract given to a Utah company with zero COVID testing experience that was clearly awarded for political reasons by Governor Lee, a contract which fell apart – costing Tennessee taxpayer $6 million for literally nothing and slowing down an already horrific COVID-19 response.
🚨MUST-WATCH: “So many things compromised my own personal ethics.” @drfixus on a $26 MILLION no-bid COVID test/PPE contract from @GovBillLee & @TNDeptofHealth’s Dr. Piercey to a UTAH company with NO EXPERIENCE.
It got canceled $6 MILLION later.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) July 28, 2021
It was no surprise then that there were people who wanted Dr. Fiscus to stop talking. Reports even surfaced of Dr. Fiscus receiving a dog muzzle in the mail – to which she responded that it would take more than that to keep her from talking.
The muzzle was a minor detail in a much bigger national story about a Governor firing a top vaccine expert to appease anti-vaccine extremists (appeasing extremists appears to be Lee’s specialty). Fiscus asked for an investigation into what she perceived as a threat, and now weeks later a story has come out from the new Nashville arm of Axios, run by Nate Rau (formerly of the Tennessee Lookout) and Adam Tamburin, saying that an investigation by the state concluded Fiscus had “sent the muzzle to herself”. (the story has been updated to reflect that the investigation did not conclude that, only that she “bought the muzzle” – meaning a card in Dr. Fiscus’ name was used)
Dr. Fiscus responded, saying she did not send it to herself, pointing out that she was the one who asked for the investigation, and that the 2nd Amazon account was created using a burner phone in Washington state, where she has not been.
The Fiscus family has openly shared the state’s findings, and says they have asked for an unredacted version of the report. Dr. Fiscus also released a follow up statement, and did an interview with Channel 5 where she pointed out that the state had her credit card on file and could easily have set her up if they so desired.
WATCH: “I DID NOT SEND THE MUZZLE TO MYSELF.”@drfixus says she’s the one who asked for the investigation, and that the state has her credit card on file and could have easily set up the 2nd Amazon account snd set her up if they wanted to.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) August 17, 2021
It seems clear 1 of 2 things happened here: Either Dr. Fiscus lied, sent herself a muzzle to garner sympathy, and asked for an investigation thinking she would never get caught by something as simple as a subpoena to Amazon… or someone at the state intentionally sent her the muzzle with her own card so that it would come out and look like she did that to discredit all the other things she has said about Governor Lee’s administration and health department.
Dr. Fiscus says those who already think she did this won’t listen to her side of the story anyway, which is likely true.
To believe the latter version you’d have to believe this administration was also capable of handing out military promotions to get private school vouchers passed… or that other close Republican pals of Lee were under FBI investigation for campaign finance issues… or that they had handed out no-bid contracts like candy throughout the pandemic to the tune of around $500 MILLION… had people peeing on a fellow Republican’s chair… framed civil rights activists and had them charged with 14 different counts… or felonized protestors for wanting equality and justice… had a trooper lie about a megaphone color to get a leading activist imprisoned…
Welp, there you have it folks… ex-@tnhousegop member Rep. Tillis himself says his chair was in fact urinated on by fellow Republicans, and thinks disgraced former speaker @GlenCasada ordered the Code Yellow 💦 😳👇🏽 https://t.co/YS5ahYjzm5
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) August 2, 2021
Bottom line: You can disbelieve Dr. Fiscus, but if you think Tennessee Republicans are above framing a doctor who was taking a sledgehammer to their credibility using nothing but the truth, to discredit her in the eyes of the state, and the country… you simply haven’t been paying attention.
Last night at the raucous Williamson County School Board meeting, where they became the 4th county to impose a school mask mandate (for 1 month), two men could be seen in a video by the Williamson Home Page following a doctor to his car and yelling at him in a threatening manner that “WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE!” and “WE WILL FIND YOU!” and “YOU’LL NEVER BE ALLOWED IN PUBLIC AGAIN!”
😷 WILLIAMSON COUNTY ANTI-MASKERS: “We know who you are! We will find you! You’ll never be allowed in public again!”
A doctor who testified for a mask mandate is hassled and threatened on the way out.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) August 11, 2021
Since we amplified that clip some eagle-eyed Holler Follerers have let us know that one of the men is Rodney H. Lunn Jr., a childless former musician who seems to enjoy the limelight and claims to have retired at 38 years old after 11 years in the diamond business.
Lunn has been a plaintiff in multiple lawsuits with regular shit-stirrers Tennessee Stands against Governor Bill Lee and Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson for imposing mask mandates. The suit was tossed by a judge for lack of standing, but that hasn’t stopped TN Stands from claiming it proves School Boards can’t impose mask mandates. Governor Lee disagrees.
Again: He attended the Williamson County School board meeting this week despite having no children.
It’s also worth noting that in the TN Stands lawsuit Rodney Lunn Jr. claims to suffer from asthma… which oddly he never mentioned at a Franklin rally when he bragged about never wearing masks.
In the TN Stands lawsuit Rodney Lunn Jr. claims to suffer from asthma… oddly he never mentioned that at a Franklin rally when he bragged about never wearing masks. 🧐😷👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/crw0sM1ALc
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) August 11, 2021
The other man in the video (who told Lunn to “calm down” before himself turning and threatening the doctor) is Christian musician Dwayne Larring, who puts out a “Worship Musician” newsletter and was at one point in a band called Audio Adrenaline. It seems he also once got epically fired on stage by Kelly Clarkson.
The board meeting was generally wild, with many anti-mask protestors speaking out of turn and yelling at the board members, but these two took things to another, more sinister level in following a doctor who was there to speak his mind to his car and launching threats in this manner.
The board members were elected democratically by the people of Williamson County. The people gave comment. The board voted. The process worked. If these guys don’t like how it went they should run for office, not make people feel unsafe just because they disagree with them. (also, please don’t run for office).
They said they know who the doctor is – now he knows who they are too.
DESPITE SEXTON’S THREATS, HANCOCK COUNTY PUTS KIDS’ SAFETY FIRST
Despite skyrocketing COVID-19 hospitalizations – including the deaths of children – this week at a press conference Tennessee Speaker Cameron Sexton warned school districts that if they dared to take measures to protect their kids by instituting mandates, separating unvaccinated kids, or closing schools if needed, he would ask Governor Lee to call a special session to punish them for it.
So much for “small government” or “local control”, right?
Well it didn’t take long for one Tennessee county to defy Sexton’s threats. And it wasn’t the county you might expect, either.
It wasn’t Davidson, or Shelby, or Hamilton, or even Knox – all of which are bigger cities and generally more prone to Democratic leadership.
Yesterday, after seeing a spike in cases among students, HANCOCK COUNTY, under the leadership of Dr. Charlotte Mullins, became the first county in East TN (Shelby is keeping theirs) to decide to implement a mask mandate anyway, despite Speaker Sexton’s threats.
We called Dr. Mullins up there in the Northeast part of the state to ask her about her decision to blaze this trail. She says she was just trying to keep kids safe and keep the schools open, and that politics did not factor into her decision. Imagine that! That’s what leadership should sound like.
What follows is a transcript of that conversation.
HOLLER: This decision was made when?
DR. MULLINS: It was made late yesterday afternoon (Tuesday). We started school on Monday thinking we could start without masks and hoping for a safe, positive school year – but we had several children test positive yesterday, and several more that had been in contact who were pending test results. So we felt like we had to make a decision quickly.
HOLLER: And were you aware of the press conference Speaker Sexton had prior, essentially threatening to call a special session if school districts did that?
DR. MULLINS: I am aware of that, but at this time I had to try to take care of our students here in Hancock County. No disrespect toward any state official. I feel like it was necessary for our county.
HOLLER: What did you think of them taking the position that no school district should be able to do that if they felt it was right for their students?
DR. MULLINS: I can’t comment on why they felt the way they do about it. At this time I want us to be able to have school. I want our students to be safe. I want our teachers to be safe. And our regional health department made the announcement that if our students wear a mask inside the classroom we wouldn’t have to quarantine them. And for the most part we aren’t having pushback in our county.
HOLLER: Were you aware you were the first county in East Tennessee to do that? To issue a mask mandate? (Shelby County is keeping theirs in Memphis)
DR. MULLINS: Not until it was on the news.
HOLLER: It seems like this wasn’t political at all. You were just trying to keep kids safe. Is that right?
DR. MULLINS: Not a bit. I realize the statements that were made, and I knew those were in place, but this was just more important. This is so important that we try to keep our kids safe so we can have school.
HOLLER: You blazed a trail here, and did something pretty brave. Some might even say heroic. Other districts may follow suit, and when they do people may look back at what Hancock County did and appreciate it.
Hancock County’s Official Statement:
Hancock County students returned to in-person instruction Monday, August 2, without a mask protocol, hopeful of a safe, positive school year. By Tuesday afternoon, significant changes in local covid data prompted our system to consider additional measures to protect the health and wellbeing of our students. Based on guidance from the CDC and the regional health department, and with respect to all local and state leaders, Hancock County Schools issued a mask directive effective Wednesday, August 4. This measure was taken to protect the health of our students, teachers and staff, while continuing to provide high quality in-person instruction. We would like to thank students, parents, and community members, as well as, Tennesseans from across the state for the tremendous outpouring of support for our decision. We will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation and adjust procedures as necessary to ensure the safest learning environment possible for our students.
Many other (bigger) districts have meetings in the coming days about their own mask rules. It will be interesting to see how their decisions end up after Dr. Mullins and Hancock County blazed this trail, wittingly or unwittingly. They deserve a lot of credit for taking politics out of it and focusing on the health of the children, even in the face of threats from Speaker Sexton and the legislature.
WATCH: “If they do, I’m gonna ask @GovBillLee for a special session.”
Speaker @CSexton25 threatens special sessions if school districts issue mask mandates, or separate vaccinated students – threatens to institute private school vouchers (their #1 priority) if schools close.😷 pic.twitter.com/Y01ay5V9UA
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) August 2, 2021
Ashley King was a presence at the Capitol making legislators uncomfortable to get the KKK Grand Wizard Statue moved. Now it’s gone, and he’s here to tell us how it feels.
“WE HAVE OTHER WORK TO DO, BUT AT LEAST THAT’S ONE DOWN.”
WATCH: “We have other work to do, but at least that’s 1 down.”
ASHLEY KING, a KKK GRAND WIZARD BUST protestor, told us he opposed it from Day 1, and that he learned the Capitol’s acoustics playing in it as a son of a state Rep. #KKKBustGGGone
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) July 27, 2021
“Knee-Jerk Reactions Will Harm Tennessee’s Children”
An Op-Ed from Dr. Terri Lewis of Tennessee
In recent days, the contingent of state legislative anti-vaxxers successfully browbeat the Tennessee Department of Health into cancelling childhood vaccine outreach programs – not just for COVID19, but for all routine childhood immunization programs.
On face, it appears that the TN Dept of Health, responsible for public health in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties excluding major metropolitan areas where local agencies wield more authority, will no longer conduct public outreach for any preventable childhood communicable disease.
‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ seems to be the new public health strategy.
Tennessee lags behind the nation in all measures of disease prevention through vaccination. As of July 13, the number of fully vaccinated Tennesseans for COVID settled at 2,599,234 or 38.06% of the population. Overall, Tennessee ranks 33rd among the 50 states with a childhood vaccination rate of 79.9% against a population of 6,944,260. Tennessee currently meets HP2030 targets for 2 out of 3 vaccination-related measures for 24-month old children.
But there are significant gaps.
Many of Tennessee’s children have not completed the entire series of vaccines for preventable illnesses in the last decade. Minority children are less likely to be fully immunized. Some parents refused any and all routine immunizations.
Progress toward meeting vaccination rates for children up to the age of 24 months is located on theTNDOH website .
As concerning is the announcement by Dr. Tim Jones, Chief Medical Officer, that henceforth, no vaccination efforts will be conducted for routine childhood vaccines, with the HPV vaccine particularly singled out.
No outreach includes “pre-planning” for flu shots events at schools and back to school vaccines, and by inference, routine immunizations for infants, toddlers, teens and college students. Responsibility for back to school vaccines will become the responsibility of the Tennessee Dept of Education, not the TNDOH.
The elements of a successful outreach effort are well documented.
First, parental and community education and messaging around the safety, efficacy, and importance of childhood immunization is essential to ensure that children receive the full complement of preventive vaccines. With the gap in health insurance coverage for children this is an important function of the TNDOH at the county level across the state.
Second, there must be ready access to immunizations at every opportunity. The percent of children without health insurance increased from 5.2% in 2018 to 5.7% in 2019, with Hispanic children most represented in the childhood insurance coverage gap . By fall of 2020, 9% of Tennessee children were uninsured, more than twice the level at the same time in 2019, according to the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy. Brief periods of being uninsured can have long-term effects on the health of children and their achievement in school… children who lose their insurance miss important immunizations and go months with major unaddressed problems…” [J. Zickafoose, MD, MS, Monroe Carrell Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt]. Children who fall into the coverage gap are least likely to receive preventive care.
Third, reliable and readily accessible immunization records that provide a non-duplicated reflection of on-time immunizations are important for ensuring an accurate personal history for personal health management. This responsibility lies with health providers, not the Tennessee Department of Education. Lack of health coverage will magnify the negative impact of the childhood coverage gap where the health system fails to conduct routine outreach.
Finally, preventable childhood diseases are on the rise with the reduction in vaccination rates. Uninsured children are particularly vulnerable. When compared with privately insured children, uninsured children have more health disadvantages including need for medical or dental care; greater severity of illness, more hospitalizations and higher mortality rates; more vaccine-preventable disease; and higher rates of chronic illness such as asthma and diabetes .
The announced actions that resulted decisions to termination vaccine program leadership and cease immunization program outreach will have harmful effects resulting in tangible, measurable harms to Tennessee’s children and youth.
I strongly encourage the re-examination of these knee-jerk reactions to pressures exercised from certain sectors of the population.
Dr. Terri Lewis
Silver Point, TN
Global Immunization Action Network Team
Yesterday, the Tennessee Department of Health released a letter they claim was written by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones on July 9th outlining their reasons for firing Dr. Fiscus, Tennessee’s top vaccine expert. For some reason this letter was not mentioned when the story of the Fiscus firing initially broke, and quickly became national news – and, according to Dr. Fiscus, was not shared with her at the time of her firing.
The Jones letter attacks the leadership and management abilities of Dr. Fiscus, and even goes so far as to accuse her of attempting to self-deal by steering Department resources to an organization she stood to gain from, without evidence. We posted a link in which Dr. Fiscus addresses those baseless accusations. We have also reached out to Dr. Jones and Commissioner Piercey for interviews about it, but have not heard back.
Dr. Fiscus has also gone ahead and addressed the letter point by point in a scathing takedown of the Jones letter. We have posted it below in its entirety.
-She says she’s “disappointed in people I considered friends and mentors,” describing how CMO Tim Jones and John Dunn (who wrote glowing reports) supported her… until they didn’t.
-She addresses CMO Tim Jones’ attacking her leadership and character by pointing to and including excerpts from her glowing performance reviews, with receipts.
–Jones attempted to use a meeting with another physician against Dr. Fiscus — who counters with a text from that physician calling her “the greatest treasure the department had” and referring to her firing as “complete and utter bullshit”.
-In the dirtiest part of the Jones letter, he implies Dr. Fiscus is self-dealing. Her performance reviews show they not only knew about Immunize TN (the org she convened), they call it “very successful” in her performance reviews.
–Jones accuses Dr. Fiscus of sharing “her own interpretation” of the mature minor doctrine without running it by counsel. Sooo… she includes an email from TDH counsel saying the summary has been blessed by Governor Lee’s office and is ok to forward” — oops.
-Lastly, Dr. Fiscus takes on Governor Lee’s office “dodging the question” and “twisting the narrative away from the subject” of how they’ve changed the vaccine program for children in Tennessee. (which their own anti-vaccine supporters have bragged that they have).
Bottom Line: This Dr. Fiscus rebuttal makes it clear The Tennessee Department of Health and Governor Lee not only were willing to scapegoat TN’s top vaccine expert for political reasons… they’re also very comfortable making things up to assassinate her character as well.
Good luck with recruitment.
For Immediate Release
July 15, 2021
Michelle Fiscus, MD FAAP Response to Tennessee Department of Health’s Justification of Termination
I apologize in advance for the length of this response, but there is much to say in response to TDH’s recently released letter attempting to justify my termination. I became aware of the existence of the document today when it was shared with my husband by a member of the media.
First, let me say how disappointed I am in people whom I considered friends and mentors in the Department of Health. Dr. Tim Jones, who signed this letter to Commissioner Piercey, recruited me to the position of medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program in 2018 and has been a trusted friend and colleague. He has confided in me throughout this pandemic response, and first let me know that my employment at TDH was threatened in late June 2021. I asked him at that time, in a meeting with my direct supervisor, Dr. John Dunn, on what grounds I was to be terminated and he replied, “None, as far as I’m concerned” and told me he would continue to “fight” for me to remain at TDH. In the moment, I told Drs. Jones and Dunn that I would resign before I would allow them to terminate me.
Over the next few weeks, both Dr. Dunn and Dr. Jones voiced their continued support for me, with Dr. Dunn telling me repeatedly that I “belonged at TDH” and that he did not want me to leave. I repeatedly shared with Dr. Dunn that I would not remain at TDH, but that I hoped my departure would be on my timeline rather than that of the administration’s. Dr. Dunn went to far as to text state Chief Operating Officer, Brandon Gibson, regarding the injustice he felt over the talks of my termination at the level of Governor’s office. I asked Dr. Dunn if Chief Gibson responded to the text, to which he replied, “She ‘hearted it’”.
On Saturday, July 3rd I received an unexpected call from Dr. Jones on my personal cell phone. Dr. Jones asked if I was at home because he wanted to “drop something by the house.” I assumed it was a letter ending my employment, but Dr. Jones said, rather sheepishly, that he was bring by scones that his wife, Jill, had baked for me. “…and an orchid.” I asked Dr. Jones if he was also bringing a letter with him and he sounded surprised that I asked. He responded, “No. I just want you to know you’re not the only one lying awake at night staring at the ceiling over this.” I told him I was out of town, he said, “good” and we ended the call. On Wednesday, July 7th, when I returned to the office, the plate of scones and the orchid were on my desk (I have since given the orchid to one of my former employees rather than bring it home) as well as the Amazon envelope containing the dog muzzle. I sent Dr. Jones a text thanking him for the scones and the orchid and asked if he also sent the muzzle. He said he did not. This does not seem to be behavior consistent with that of an individual who would write this letter of justification that was dated just two days later.
On July 12th at 0617 Dr. Dunn sent me the following text: “Good morning Shelley. I think all their timelines and decision points are said he [sic] sure you have everything you need and one [sic] today.” I called Dr. Dunn because his text was unclear and he stated that I should connect with Tim (Jones) sometime that day and that I should make sure “you have everything you need”. Shortly after this, Tim Jones called me on my personal cell phone and said, “You will be getting an invite for a meeting today at 3:30pm. I probably won’t be alone. Let me know if you would like to talk before then.” “What would we talk about?”, I asked. Tim replied, “Well, if you want to give me anything.” I replied, “Oh, no. Thanks.”
Just prior to 3:30 I went up to see the Deputy Commissioner, who has been a dear friend in the Department. I found Dr. Jones pacing in the hallway, clearly distressed. His back was to me and I said, “are you pacing???” but did not wait for a reply. As I have previously stated, Dr. Jones met with me and a member of the human resources department at 3:30pm, stated he was sorry to have to have the meeting, and provided me the choice of resignation or the “expiration of my executive service”. Dr. Jones appeared somewhat surprised with my choice to be terminated.
I will address the content of the letter point by point:
On multiple occasions during the 2020-2021 COVID response, Dr. Fiscus has failed to maintain satisfactory and harmonious relationships among her team. In February 2021, CEDEP leadership and TDH Human Resources received multiple complaints from program staff regarding her management style, treatment of employees, and poor program morale. Dr. Dunn met with five senior team members who expressed consistent complaints related to management of the program by Dr. Fiscus during the COVID response. He had several coaching sessions with Dr. Fiscus, with minimal improvement in the situation noted. Two of her most senior leaders have subsequently resigned.
My annual reviews from my four years at TDH refute these allegations. From my annual review for the period of 10/1/2019-9/30/2020, written by Dr. John Dunn and approved by Dr. Tim Jones:
“Dr. Fiscus has consistently exceeded expectations during this evaluation period. Her leadership in running the program activities has been exceptional. Many of the program staff have been on AWS yet they are meeting program objectives and deliverables.” End of cycle outcome rating: Outstanding
“Dr. Fiscus has selflessly focused on the needs of her team and not [sic] her own professional development plan. Her attention to team dynamics and staffing have been outstanding during this rating period. She is providing opportunities to her staff to step into leadership roles. Dr. Fiscus has considtently [sic] exceeded expectations in regards to management of HR issues and balancing the additional workload related to C19.” End of cycle outcome rating: Outstanding
From my interim evaluations from 12/01/2020 – 6/30/2021, written by Dr. John Dunn (changes in HR policy no longer required Dr. Tim Jones’ approval):
“The vaccine team and Dr. Fiscus have been under tremendous stress with attrition being noted. Dr. Fiscus is working closely with her team to provide growth and development opportunities while balancing the workload of COVID vaccine.”
The two employees referenced who have resigned have completed exit interviews with senior leaders outside of my program. Their comments were shared with Dr. Dunn and did not indicate that their resignations were due to my leadership. One of the two employees accepted an opportunity with a global health organization, which was their aspiration. Both I consider to be good friends and are still in frequent contact with me.
On March 7, 2021, Dr. Dunn and I met with Dr. Fiscus and another departmental physician to mediate complaints against Dr. Fiscus of disrespectful treatment and ineffective management. The meeting terminated with a refusal of both parties to communicate constructively, and with a refusal by the other physician to work further on the VPDIP team. Dr. Fiscus was coached on professionalism and teamwork.
This has been a pandemic of historic proportions and a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out that required that I, as well as members of my team, work extraordinary hours for months on end. It was stressful and, at times, there were disagreements. The physician referenced above reached out to Dr. Jones because she was concerned about my ability to continue to work at the pace I was working and hoped Dr. Jones might be able to assist me with delegating responsibilities. I was never “coached on professionalism” although I was coached on teamwork and the need to work on my ability to delegate responsibility to others. The physician referenced above sent a text to me on Monday, July 12, after learning of my termination. It read (shared with permission):
“What you may not know from our interactions is that I truly believe you are the greatest treasure TDH had. This is complete and utter [expletive] and I am incredibly proud of you, the work you’ve done, and your response to this situation. Stay strong and keep up the good fight!”
Dating back to December 2020, the vaccine planning team required intervention by CEDEP leadership to address inefficient use of team resources, including poor inter-program communication regarding vaccine distribution. Repeated failures by Dr. Fiscus to appropriately delegate to others resulted in repetitive, long, and inefficient meetings. These meetings took already busy colleagues away from other tasks.
Again, annual reviews refute these allegations. The statewide roll-out of multiple new vaccines using new means and methods developed by the federal government that must be adapted to a local environment is complex and extremely challenging. It did take time to determine the most efficient and effective means for accomplishing this goal, which I accomplished with excellence.
From my annual review for the period of 10/1/2019-9/30/2020, written by Dr. John Dunn and approved by Dr. Tim Jones:
“Dr. Fiscus has been a strong leader for the VPD team and has been an integral piece of the COVID pandemic response. Her leadership and efforts in multiple areas have been critical.”
“Dr. Fiscus has exceeded expectations for this work outcome [Ensure that reports of vaccine preventable diseases are responded to rapidly and thoroughly]. Her efforts to maintain programmatic [sic] activities have been notable. She has been a key contributor and leader for the C19 response. Her work in balancing the upcoming flu and C19 vaccine planning has been excellent. End of cycle outcome rating: Advanced
“Dr. Fiscus has done an outstanding job representing TDH and CEDEP. Her work has far exceeded expectations in regards to outbreach [sic] to stakeholder groups and collaborators in the C19 response…. I greatly appreciate her leadership and teamwork. End of cycle outcome rating: Outstanding
Over the past three months Dr. Fiscus requested to give a new non-profit organization TDH funding to support VPDIP activities. This organization was founded and led by Dr. Fiscus, had no Executive Director or other employees, and had no other substantive source of funding. Providing funds to such an entity would be poor judgement and a substantial conflict of interest.
When I joined the Immunization Program I looked to see what the state’s immunization coalition had been doing and found Tennessee was one of only two states in the southeast that did not have a statewide coalition.
As evidenced by my 2019 job plan:
As you can see, leadership at TDH was well aware of my work to convene ImmunizeTN and celebrated those efforts. I convened stakeholders who went on to incorporate as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. I am not on the board of directors, I am not on the payroll, and I serve in only an ex-officio advisory capacity to the board. The coalition has funding from the American Academy of Pediatrics and it is true that I was going to use CDC funding to support the work of the coalition to promote immunizations and provide education to healthcare providers and to the public. ImmunizeTN also has a social media presence which is used to spread pro-vaccine messaging and refute anti-vaccine mis- and disinformation. The CDC provides funding to state immunization programs to support this work and encourages states to provide financial support to their immunization coalitions. There is no conflict of interest as I do not benefit materially from the coalition. I would argue that the refusal of TDH to allow the use of CDC funds to support the work of this coalition further obstructs our ability to combat vaccine misinformation and overcome vaccine hesitancy.
I have released my annual evaluation, in their entirety, to the media, except for the 2018-2019 document, which is not in my possession. I have requested a copy of that document from TDH Human Resources without response. I request that this document be released immediately as it, too, supports my record as an exemplary employee of TDH.
In June, 2021, Dr. Fiscus communicated directly with a state university regarding the department producing COVID-vaccine reports for the institution. She did not notify or consult with supervisors, and the situation only became evident when departmental legal counsel received formal documents directly from the university memorializing the arrangement. The requested reports were not produced by the department.
As I do not have access to my state email account, I cannot be certain of the details of this situation. As the state-appointed liaison to all levels of education in Tennessee as it pertained to the COVID-19 response, I was the point contact for all colleges and universities in the state. To my recollection, the University of Tennessee asked if TDH would be able to provide data regarding the COVID-19 immunization coverage rate of UTK students and staff using data from the immunization registry. UTK provided a draft data use agreement which I forwarded to the TDH Office of General Counsel for their review and thoughts, but I do not recall receiving a response. There was no consultation with supervisors because I did not completely understand what was being requested by UTK and my first inquiry was to OGC for the review of the document.
In May, 2021, Dr. Fiscus broadly shared a letter regarding her own interpretation of state and federal law with external partners with respect to vaccinations and other medical treatment of minors. The letter should have been reviewed by both leadership and departmental legal counsel. However, Dr. Fiscus did not share the letter nor otherwise include any of these parties in the drafting process prior to sending it out. This action resulted in confusion of both law and policy for private providers, parents, and legislators.
The details of the Mature Minor Doctrine memo of May 10th have been shared broadly, as have the emails that led up to the release of that document. The memo is in the public record. There is no personal interpretation of the doctrine included in that memo—the language, with the exception of the introductory paragraph and the final line, “There is no federal, legal requirement for parent or caregiver consent for COVID-19, or any other, vaccine”, was taken verbatim from the document provided to me by Grant Mullins, TDH chief legal counsel. It was not customary for my communications with medical providers regarding the logistics and administration of COVID-19 vaccines to be reviewed, and several memos preceded this one without any discussion of the need for internal review. To state that I did not include legal counsel in the drafting process is clearly untrue, given Mr. Mullin’s email to me below which states, “this is forward facing so feel free to distribute to anyone.”
Additionally, I would like to respond to statements released by the Governor’s office.
Governor Lee’s press secretary, Casey Black, stated the following in an email to the media on July 14, 2021:
Despite misleading reporting, the Department of Health has not halted the Vaccines for Children Program that provides information and vaccine access to Tennessee parents. This program covers immunizations including DTap, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox and Hepatitis B and will continue to be successfully administered:
• Tennessee ranked among the top 10 states for MMR vaccination coverage among kindergartners during the 2019-2020 school year • 95.3 percent of 2020-2021 kindergarten students in TN were fully immunized
• For more than a decade Tennessee has above 90 percent coverage of kindergarten students receiving childhood immunizations including DTap, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis B.
The department is mindful of ensuring parents, not kids, are the intended audience for any outreach efforts regarding medical decisions for children and has simply re-evaluated some tactics like reminder postcards and follow-up communications. While childhood immunization rates temporarily dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are already seeing vaccination rates rebound to pre-pandemic levels and will continue supporting parents who are working to get their families back on track.
I know a lot of misleading info is being shared, so don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have any questions.
I’ve also copied Sarah Tanksley from the Dept. of Health here in case any follow up is needed on her end.
Casey Black Press Secretary | Office of the Governor
What is stated above is, indeed, factual; however, it is not relevant to the concern regarding TDH’s moratorium on childhood vaccination events in schools, outreach to adolescents or their parents regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, or the directive to not publicize National Immunization Awareness Month in August. I have never stated that the Vaccines for Children Program had been halted. The VFC Program is an entitlement program that provides vaccines to children who are insured through TennCare or who are uninsured, and I would certainly hope that the work of that program has been unhindered. What has been halted is the partnerships between local health departments and outside agencies, such as schools, to provide vaccines outside of a local health department. What has been halted is any attempts to communicate to parents that their children are in need of critical routine immunizations during this back-to-school season. That is a significant change from the standard operations of the Department of Health and this decision creates barriers to immunization and will result in decreased vaccination coverage rates, especially among poor and minority populations. It is interesting that the talking points provided discuss the past accomplishments of the program, all of which were under the direction of myself and my immediate predecessor and have absolutely nothing to do with the current concerns regarding the actions taken by Dr. Piercey to appease a handful of outraged and uninformed legislators. The information I have shared is not “misleading”, it is the response from the Governor’s office that both dodges the questions posed and twists the narrative away from the subject at hand.