Tom Frieden, M.D., MPH (yes, his official bio says "Tom") was appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June, 2009. His bio says his top three priorities are (1) fighting global disease threats; (2) reducing the incidence of smoking, inactivity, diabetes, hypertension, and others; and this one (3):
Strengthening public health & health care collaboration – by aligning, coordinating and integrating public health and health care to improve health outcomes.
Last Thursday, up to 7,500 gallons of a chemical compound called MCHM spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia, forcing a shutdown of the drinking water supply for 300,000 people, in what The New York Times called "a sweeping health and economic emergency in the state capital." The restrictions are gradually being lifted, but the crisis isn't over. The CDC on Wednesday told the state health department that "'out of an abundance of caution,' pregnant women should not drink the water until the chemical is at 'non-detectable levels.'"
Reporters at the Charleston Gazette understandably wanted to ask the CDC about this warning and about exactly what is known concerning the toxicity of MCHM. Ken Ward Jr., one of the reporters covering the crisis, listed his questions for the CDC on his Facebook page:
But he and a colleague, David Gutman, could not break through the CDC's iron wall. They got no response. So they tracked down Frieden's number and called him at home.
And here's what happened:
Just to be sure we all understand what's going on here: One of the nation's top public health officials was unwilling to speak to reporters covering an ongoing health crisis. He wasn't even willing to direct them to a person at CDC who was qualified to respond to their questions.
What was it Frieden had said about his top priorities? Oh, yes: "Strengthening public health & health care collaboration – by aligning, coordinating and integrating public health and health care to improve health outcomes."
So much for collaboration.