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Michigan health dept. challenges court order in Flint water investigation

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The state Department of Health and Human Services is asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court order blocking it from communicating with local officials in Flint.   

The protective order was issued by a Genesee County Circuit Court judge as part of the Attorney General’s investigation into possible criminal activity in the Flint Water Crisis. To date, nine current and former state and local government employees have been criminally charged, including several from the state health department. 

But the Snyder administration claims the court order is preventing the health department from investigating recent Legionnaire's disease cases in Genesee County.   

According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services:

As part of the order, MDHHS is prohibited from fully investigating Legionella cases in Genesee County. As MDHHS has concerns regarding the current investigation of cases, today’s action is focused on the status of the fourth Legionella case in Genesee County, which has been determined to be healthcare-associated. The case was diagnosed on Aug. 12, and announced by the Genesee County Health Department on Aug. 16. MDHHS is aware of two additional cases in Genesee County since this case was confirmed, bringing the total to six cases in Genesee County for 2016. To date, MDHHS has no knowledge of any efforts in regards to the fourth case by McLaren Hospital to appropriately assess, remediate and clear the patient’s location. Under the Public Health Code, MDHHS is authorized to inspect or investigate suspected outbreaks of or exposures to communicable diseases/infections. Such inspections and/or investigations are necessary and vital to obtaining appropriate information in order to protect the public’s health and safety.

The Michigan Attorney General’s office wants the court order to remain in place.

AG office spokeswoman Andrea Bitely issued the following statement following the filing of the challenge to the court order: 

Genesee County Judge Geoffrey Neithercut recognized MDHHS is the subject of a criminal investigation and should not be performing any investigation of the legionella or lead poisoning in Flint. The Judge authorized this protective order to preserve the evidence in the ongoing criminal investigation. The State of Michigan may still provide health services and may still help victims of legionella or lead poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control is currently assisting the county health department investigate six confirmed cases of Legionella, as well as half a dozen potential cases.

The director of the Genesee County Health Department says the court order has added a “layer of work."   But Director Mark Valacak says “it doesn’t prevent us from getting the job done.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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