Michigan Governor Appoints State Official Criminally Charged in Flint Crisis to New Public Health Panel
LANSING, MI — On November 20th, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his appointment of Dr. Eden Wells to lead a new Public Health Advisory Council. Dr. Wells is Michigan’s chief medical executive and one of fifteen current and former government officials facing prosecution for their role in the Flint water crisis.
Wells was in court on Tuesday, November 21st for a hearing on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to an officer. The Office of the Attorney General says additional charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office are likely. Prosecutors allege that Dr. Wells lied to law enforcement about when she became aware of the Legionnaires’ outbreak, and that she threatened a crew of independent researchers studying the source of the disease.
Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Hilliard Hampton, Freshwater Future Director for Urban Programs, responded to the governor’s appointment of Dr. Wells:
“Entrusting someone who has been criminally charged in the Flint water crisis to lead the Public Health Advisory Council, which is intended to provide advice about emerging issues in public health, simply cannot instill public trust in our system of government.”
The Public Health Advisory Council was recommended by the Michigan Public Health Commission and will oversee the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. It is also tasked with advising decision makers on emerging public health issues, monitoring the effectiveness of the state’s public health response system, and reviewing collaborative efforts across agencies.
A spokesperson for the governor defended Wells’ appointment, stating that “everyone is innocent until proven guilty.” Environmental and community groups working on water quality and affordability across the state reacted to the governor’s appointment and statement with disbelief and concern.
Monica Lewis-Patrick of We the People of Detroit commented,
“It’s bad enough that Governor Snyder has chosen someone who is in the midst of defending herself against felony charges, but those charges are directly linked to the Flint Water Crisis—one of the largest public health scandals in recent history. As a person of conscience, I can only demand Dr. Wells be removed from overseeing anything having to do with public health.”
Revelations of the devastating public health consequences of the Flint water crisis are still coming to light years later. A recent paper finds that there is considerable evidence demonstrating the city’s lead crisis may have sparked a drop in birth rates and an abrupt rise in miscarriages. The authors found that the birth rate declined by 12 percent among Flint women, and the fetal death rate soared by 58%. They note that these estimates do not include miscarriages occurring before the 20th week of gestation, which is the earliest hospitals report. Overall, almost 300 fewer children were born in Flint than would have been expected had the city not changed its water source.