A decision on hiring a new chief public health adviser for Johnson County has been delayed because of concerns voiced by Mary Kay Culp, state executive director of Kansans For Life.
Culp told county commissioners about the potential appointee’s past testimony supporting a doctor associated with the late George Tiller in providing late-term abortions.
With very little discussion, commissioners voted 5-2 last week to table indefinitely a decision to name of Allen Greiner of Kansas University Medical Center to become the county public health officer. Commissioners Ed Peterson and Steve Klika were opposed.
Greiner’s name, proposed by the county Department of Health and Environment staff, was on a list of appointees to be considered during the usually non-controversial consent agenda. However, Commissioner Jason Osterhaus asked that his appointment be delayed so he could look into concerns presented by constituents.
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Peterson objected to the delay without a time limit or a reason given, but Osterhaus offered no further public explanation.
The county health officer is a $40,000-a-year part-time position that will be vacated by Joseph Hume, who has filled that spot since 2005. If the commission approves his appointment, Greiner would take office July 1.
Greiner specializes in family medicine and is associate professor and director of the research division in the Department of Family Health at the KU Med Center. He has filled a similar public health spot in Wyandotte County for about 10 years.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with my qualifications,” Greiner said of Culp’s questions. “There are a lot of other matters that are much more germane.”
Culp said her concerns are rooted in Greiner’s testimony to the state Board of Healing Arts in 2011 during a hearing on whether to revoke the medical license of Kris Neuhaus. Neuhaus provided second opinions in 2003 that Tiller had to have to legally provide late-term abortions. Tiller was shot to death in 2009 by a man who professed anti-abortion views.
The medical board revoked Neuhaus’s license in 2012, but a judge overturned that decision in March.
During the hearing, Greiner was called as an expert witness to comment on Neuhaus’s practice. At the time, the Kansans for Life blog was sharply critical of Greiner’s testimony. Culp reiterated some of those points, saying Greiner did not properly check Neuhaus’ references before she entered the KU public health medical program as a student to get an additional public health degree.
Culp also said Greiner did not appear to have adequate knowledge about record-keeping requirements. Inadequate record keeping was one of the points the state medical board relied on as evidence that Neuhaus’s license should be revoked.
Greiner, however, said he reviewed Neuhaus’s record keeping and found it appropriate and meeting state standards. He also said Neuhaus was qualified to enter the medical program and was comfortable working with her at KU, where she is a research project director for the Department of Family Medicine.
Greiner said he did not charge a fee for his testimony.
Culp said she contacted several county commissioners about the matter.
“We didn’t make a big public thing about it, but we sure would have it if had gone forward,” Culp said.
“This particular issue is about something 80 percent of people are against,” she said about late-term abortions.
“If I was a county commissioner and voted against that, I would wear it as a badge of honor,” Culp said.
The delay didn’t sit well with all commissioners. Normally commissioners allow for delays requested by other commissioners as a courtesy, but they usually come with a time limit. Peterson and Klika said they had no objection to a fact-finding mission on Greiner, but didn’t like the indefinite aspect of it. They were both also wary of politics entering the realm of public health decisions.
“It’s very troubling when we have one interest group that is somehow interceding in the appointment of an individual, and without any evidence before us or substantial claims or allegations we delay indefinitely,” Peterson said. “The open-ended deferral suggests people want to forget about it and it will just go away.”
Klika, who described himself as “pro life” expressed similar views. He agreed with Peterson’s assertion during the commission meeting that the county public health office should be above politics.
Greiner should not be punished for his expert testimony, Klika said. “Why should somebody be tainted based on their expertise?” he said. The county needs a good adviser on public health issues and disease outbreaks, and medical knowledge should be paramount in that search, he said.
Osterhaus said he asked for the indefinite time period because he didn’t know how long it might take to get transcripts from the hearing and answer other questions. He said he was contacted by Culp late Wednesday night before the Thursday vote.
“I want to keep an open mind till I get all the facts,” he said.
Greiner said as of Tuesday he had not yet been contacted by Osterhaus.
Commission Chairman Ed Eilert, who voted for the delay, said it would be up to Osterhaus to answer the questions before any further action is taken.
But some other commissioners said every effort should be made to get that done in a reasonable time frame. Commissioner Jim Allen, who voted for the delay, said 30 days seems like a delay that would be fair to both the constituents and Greiner.
“I don’t think this is something that should be hanging around too long,” he said.