July 8, 2009

Lewis A Threat To Employee Safety & Public Health

Details are still emerging, but yesterday the Niagara County Courthouse apparently had a major swine flu scare requiring offices to be “deep cleaned with a bleach solution,” emails obtained by the Niagara Times reveal.

County Manager Greg Lewis, meanwhile, spent most of the day AWOL on the issue, and building a wall of denial around the problem, trying to keep information about the potential outbreak secret from county employees and members of the public who conducted business in the Courthouse in recent days.

Let me repeat that: Greg Lewis tried to keep information about an outbreak of a serious, and potentially deadly disease from county workers and the public.

Lewis was first made aware of the problem at 9:30 a.m. in an email from Labor Relations Manager Dave Watroba, which we will quote at length:

[An employee] from the DA's office has notified us of one confirmed case of swine flu in their office. That person is in the hospital. Another employee is being treated for unconfirmed swine flu. A third is a "probable" case and a fourth is going to the doctor today, reportedly not feeling well.
The Dept. of Health has been notified. The office is being deep cleaned with a bleach solution today.

For hours afterwards, though, nothing happened. Sources tell us that Lewis, along with Human Resources Manager Peter Lopes, made the determination that they would not notify county employees or the larger public about the potential outbreak because they didn’t want to cause employee unrest. They then made the decision to keep discussions to only a handful of Lewis’ closest confidantes, including Lopes and Watroba. Even department heads in the government were left unaware.

We are also told that rumors began to fly inside the Courthouse that something was amiss around lunchtime when word of the cleanup began to spread, and that’s when county employees began to demand answers.

However, it wasn’t until after the county workforce’s workday ended at 4:30 p.m. that Lewis finally made the decision to act, and that only after a lawyer in the county attorney’s office got involved—apparently tipped off by contacts in the DA’s office—and the press started making inquiries. An email sent by County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton at 4:50 p.m. sums the issue up:

i just got off the phone with Rick Pfeifer from the gazette and Joe Foltz from county atty office. Tomorrow, I recommend that a memo to all county employees needs to go out from their employer with comments, education and directions from the Public Health Department, consistent with our outreach to the public. Thoughts?

Finally, at 6:29 p.m., Lewis made the decision that employees should be made aware of a potentially life-threatening disease:

I am ok with a memo to County employees provide HIPPA compliance is assured and the communication is carefully crafted in accordance with Public Health guidance on the subject matter of H1N1..

My best,

Greg Lewis

Did you get all that? At 9:30 in the morning, Lewis is alerted to a potentially serious health risk to employees. Rumors are flying within hours. But he can’t make a decision to act until AFTER lawyers tell him to do something and AFTER the media starts demanding answers—and AFTER workers had already left for the day.

Think about how many people were potentially exposed already on Monday. Think about how many more, though, were senselessly exposed on Tuesday because Lewis refused to act. People have a right to know if they’re at risk of contracting serious illness.

Think about pregnant mothers who chose to go to the Courthouse, whether they had business in the County Clerk’s office or were reporting for jury pool duty.

Think about young children accompanying parents on errands or seeing the legal system in action.

And think about the hundreds of county workers who weren’t warned to stay away all morning.

And then realize: Unlike you, Greg Lewis didn’t think about a single one of them.

His piss-poor attitude is one thing. His constantly courting employment elsewhere is yet another. But this, this is too much. Playing games with the public’s health, and that of his employees, though, is an entirely separate issue. If he isn’t removed for the first two reasons, then the third should be an impeachable offense.

Will someone in the Leg please grow a pair and kick this guy to the curb?


Dark Knight said...

One more instance of buffoon Greg Lewis being in over his head. He clearly is not fit to do his job and should finally and mercifully be fired.

Anyone knows that fear of the unknown is worse that actually putting out a memo reminding people to make sure they constantly wash their hands, stay home if they feel sick and go to the doctor if it persists.

Hobbes, while I think you're being a little melodramatic, that is exactly what happens when leadership fails to inform people in a timely manner.

Paladin said...

DK, I agree on all your points except Hobbes being melodramatic.

Lewis failed to let the public and county workers know information critical to their exercise of their rights regarding their own health. I keep hearing how we have rights to healthcare, etc. etc. What about the right to know when we're being exposed to pathogens?

Lewis needs to go. And he needs to be pushed, rather than leave on his own terms for sunny Florida.

James T. Kirk said...

Gentlemen: I agree with you both, but I think Hobbes UNDERSTATES the case.

He mentioned pregnant women in his post--a very valid concern.

But what about members of the population with HIV/AIDS? What about cancer patients receiving chemotherapy? For individuals with suppressed immune systems, this could be a very serious problem.

And, as the public has work to conduct in the courthouse - both legal work, and, as Hobbes noted, people visiting the county clerk for titles, passports, etc.

Mr. Lewis has much to answer for here. And, in light of this, I hope someone will ask him to do the right thing and resign.

lido said...

Who's Tom Christy and what does he/she have to do with the topic at hand? Greg Lewis potentially endangered the lives of hundreds of people. If you don't think that's reason enough to fire this incompetent fool, you're not nearly as smart as you think you are. Ramble on...and on...and on, Larry.

Mr. Pink said...

Lewis walking around with his oafish "I love Niagara County" pin was reason enough to fire him...he's a slob, a fool and an embarassment to our community.

But this goes beyond that. He's become a third world dictator, deciding who gets to know crucial information about public health and who doesn't. Can we please get rid of this jackass?

lido said...

Larry, no offense intended and don't take this the wrong way, but you're an idiot. If you think it's hype, or a witch hunt or whatever ever word you misspelled, get your ass to the next county legislature meeting and ask Lewis, on the floor, exactly what the timeline of events was. Anything less reinforces the perception of you as all-talk, no action. Personally, I don't think you have the sack to demand answers. It's just too easy for you to sit at your taxpayer subsidized desk, type away on your taxpayer subsidized computer and make unfounded assumptions on your taxpayer subsidized time.

You're all about words - well ya know what? Words don't mean garbage. If you think something is wrong in this blog, get off your sorry ass and question it or prove it. I know, I know, you'll come back with some lame-ass answer as you always do.

Just out of curiousty, Larry, were you not hugged enough as a child? Because you sure seem to be staving for attention at such a mature age. It's okay, Larry, here's a cyber-hug from me to you if it quells some of that angst that you feel from decades gone by.

James T. Kirk said...

Larry, first off, you're a bore. You're little more than a public employee who can't be fired because of a silly concept called "tenure," and then spends all of his time biting the public hand that feeds him.

That being said, I have to admit to finding it laughable that you - who have taken the opportunity to rail against capitalism at every turn in your billions of posts on virtually every blog in Western New York - would now find a member of management whose abuse of employees you can stomach.

Mr. Lewis is guilty of attempting to withhold critical information about a health matter from county employees. If a manager in a factory did that, you'd sic OSHA on him and enter into a 4,000-word soliloquy about how this is proof of the utter corruption of capitalism and the absolute need for unions.

Enough of the posturing, Larry. Like most of your ilk (tenured college professors, or, in your case, tenured instructors at a community college) you don't like Republicans. Just say it, and save all the pretend indignation for someone who hasn't had their fill of your BS.

Barney said...

ooh - that gotta sting!