(FLINT) – A Wayne State University professor testified that Michigan’s chief medical executive consistently tried to blame Genesee County hospitals for the 2014 and 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in Flint.
Shawn McElmurry, who led a team of researchers trying to identify the source of the outbreak that is attributed to 12 deaths, also testified Dec. 20 at the preliminary exam for Dr. Eden Wells that he told Gov. Rick Snyder that the team’s study “wasn’t going well” and he could use his help to carry out much-needed testing.
“It was made clear to me I don’t (report) directly to the governor,” McElmurry testified. ” . . . It was made clear to me I was to work with (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director) Nick Lyon.”
When Lyon wasn’t available, McElmurry said, he was to reach out to Rich Baird, a Snyder senior advisor.
Wells is charged with obstruction of justice and with lying to a peace officer by knowingly giving false statements to a water investigator.
The prosecution is expected to seek an involuntary manslaughter and misconduct charges at the conclusion of the preliminary exam, which continues Jan. 28 before Judge William Crawford III in downtown Flint. The manslaughter charge is in connection with the death of John Snyder, 83, of Genesee County, in June 2015.
McElmurry first took the stand for the Wells’ prelim on Dec. 11, testifying that the research team, Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee (FWICC), wanted to test water samples from the filters the state distributed, but Wells claimed in an August 2016 meeting that doing so was a “red line.” He interpreted that to mean the team would not be allowed to move forward unless it left the water filters alone.
Wednesday’s testimony began with defense attorney Steve Tramontin cross examining the witness about problems within the research team.
Tramontin also questioned McElmurry about his distrust of the state during the FWICC research and about outside influences on his team’s conclusions due to McElmurry’s discussions with other groups or individual people about the crisis.
Special Prosecutor Paul Stablein asked point blank if the state tried to influence the group’s results.
“The state has strongly pushed us to recognize the Legionnaires’ outbreak as a hospital-associated outbreak,” McElmurry said, noting that while researchers “continue to analyze the data,” it is “fairly safe to say we cannot explain all the Legionnaires cases based on hospital association.”
That prompted Stablein to ask what, if anything, Wells did to try to influence FWICC’s study.
Wells consistently reiterated “it’s the largest hospital known . . . outbreak of Legionnaires,” McElmurry said, emphasizing the word “hospital.”
“She always tried to qualify the outbreak as hospital related,” he added. “It certainly made it difficult to approach McLaren (Hospital).”
On cross examination, McElmurry said McLaren officials “didn’t consent to participate” in the group’s study.
It was during the “red line” meeting, McElmurry said, that Snyder asked about the study’s progress.
“I told him it wasn’t going at all,” he said. “We needed a push.”
McElmurry said he didn’t attempt to follow up with the Governor nor did the Governor contact him after the meeting.
Wells and Lyon, who also faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for his response to the Flint water crisis, are two of 15 current and former state and city officials charged in connection with the water crisis and Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
Four other defendants have accepted plea deals and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, which could lead to dismissed charges.
This story presented in cooperation with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.