- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

A high-ranking D.C. health official who helped run the city agency handling bioterrorism emergencies says her job was eliminated because she protested the misuse of federal grant money.

Thyra Lowe, former deputy administrator for the city’s Emergency Health and Medical Services Administration, states in her lawsuit against the city that she faced retaliation for protesting when the agency improperly diverted federal bioterrorism grant money to pay for several administrative positions.

The suit also states the agency’s interim director has no public health experience and that his most recent job was working as a caterer.

Roderick Blair, interim director, declined to comment yesterday on the lawsuit or his job qualifications, citing a policy that the health department’s communications office handles media inquiries. A department spokeswoman said officials cannot comment on pending litigation.

Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, said city officials are reviewing Miss Lowe’s complaint. The lawsuit was transferred from D.C. Superior Court to federal court last week. Miss Lowe first sued the District last month.

Miss Lowe said she lost her job after protesting the use of federal grant money to pay for three midlevel health department positions. The suit also states D.C. Hospital Association officials wanted Miss Lowe to divert $250,000 of the grant to pay for the salary of a medical director overseeing bioterrorism response in the District.

Miss Lowe then sought advice from the federal Health Resources Services Administration, which said the salary expense would be an “inappropriate” use of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant money, according to the suit.

Robert Malson, director of the hospital association, said yesterday he was not familiar with Miss Lowe’s suit so he could not comment on the specific accusations.

However, he said the hospital association had received federal approval to use grant money to fund the hiring of Dr. Jeffrey Elting as a medical director. He said the job calls for overseeing bioterrorism preparedness among area hospitals.

Mr. Malson also said the hiring of Dr. Elting, a former White House physician, was approved by city health officials and medical societies in the city.

“I do not back down from the decisions that were made with all of the parties,” he said. “My position is that we continue to press for federal funding for our work that most Americans would agree is closer to the government’s responsibility.”

The lawsuit also states Miss Lowe faced retaliation for signing documents for attorneys of emergency management official Sherry Adams, who sued the city over purported contract steering and cronyism. The suit was settled out of court last year.

Miss Lowe served as an administrator in the agency from November 2002 to November 2004. Her lawsuit seeks reinstatement and unspecified compensatory damages.

The lawsuit comes months after Mary Parham Wolfe, a former supervisor for the health department’s tobacco control program, filed a suit in D.C. Superior Court stating she was fired for disclosing irregularities in the agency’s grant spending.

D.C. officials filed a response disputing the complaint last month. A status conference in the case is scheduled today .

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