TN Vaccine official fired after leadership complaints, according to state records

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s top vaccine official, was fired for multiple reasons, according to new documents obtained by WVLT News through an open records request.
Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 2:43 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A letter recommending the firing of Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s top vaccine official, reveals multiple complaints were filed regarding her alleged ineffective leadership and reported inability to work well with team members, according to new state documents obtained by WVLT News through an open records request.

The recommendation memo was written by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones to Commissioner Lisa Piercey on July 9.

Tennessee Vaccine Controversy

Why was Tennessee's top vaccine official fired? She has one story, but new documents from the state reveal other reasons. Amanda Hara is live now with a look at the documents WVLT News just received through an open records request.

Posted by WVLT on Thursday, July 15, 2021

According to the memo written by Jones, “This recommendation is based on Dr. Fiscus’s failure to maintain good working relationships with members of her team, her lack of effective leadership, her lack of appropriate management, and unwillingness to consult with superiors and other internal stakeholders on VPDIP projects.”

The report said that on multiple occasions in the 2020-2021 COVID response, Dr. Fiscus failed to maintain satisfactory and harmonious relationships among her team.

In February, Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness (CEDEP) leadership and Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) received multiple complaints from program staff regarding her management style, treatment of employees, and poor program morale. Fiscus even received several coaching sessions to improve her leadership qualities, but were unsuccessful, according to the report.

Two of her most senior leaders have subsequently resigned, according to state documents.

According to the report, Dr. Fiscus founded and led a non-profit intended to support vaccine programs, then asked TDH to provide funding. “Providing funds to such an entity would be poor judgement and a substantial conflict of interest,” Dr. Jones wrote.

The final reasoning leading to the recommendation that Dr. Fiscus be fired, came from an incident in May, 2021.

According to the report, Dr. Fiscus broadly shared a letter addressing vaccinations and other medical treatments in minors in the state. The letter was addressed to state and federal law with external partners.

According to the report, the letter “should have been reviewed by both leadership and departmental legal counsel. However, Dr. Fiscus did not share the letter nor otherwise include any of these parties in the drafting process prior to sending it out. This action resulted in confusion of both law and policy for private providers, parents, and legislators.”

The report ends with “Her leadership and management of her team does not foster the culture or environment expected at the Tennessee Department of Health.”

Dr. Fiscus was officially terminated on July 12.

Dr. Fiscus, spoke out about the resignation this week saying she was fired because she highlighted, in a letter, a state option that allows minors to get a vaccine with their parent’s permission.

The Mature Minor Doctrine, put in place by the Tennessee Department of Health, permits healthcare providers to treat certain minors without parental consent according to the “Rule of Sevens”.

The doctrine has been in place since 1987.

According to the doctrine, the “Rule of Sevens” says:

  • Under the age of 7 there is no capacity, and the physician must have parental consent to treat (unless a statutory exception applies).
  • Between the ages of 7 and 14, there is a rebuttable presumption that there is no capacity, and a physician generally should get parental consent before treating (unless a statutory exception applies).
  • Between the ages of 14 and 18, there is a rebuttable presumption of capacity, and the physician may treat without parental consent unless the physician believes that the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions.

At a June legislative session, in which some lawmakers threatened to defund the Tennessee Health Department, they specifically referenced a letter Fiscus sent to medical providers explaining the legality of allowing them to vaccinate children 14 and up without parental consent.

This letter sparked backlash, including a dog muzzle being mailed to Dr. Fiscus days before she was fired.

A letter outlining her termination did not indicate the exact reasons for Fiscus’ firing. It simply stated she could not return back to the office on Monday, July 12th.

You can read the full termination letter and recommendation letter from Dr. Tim Jones below.

Termination Letter to Dr. Fiscus by WVLT News on Scribd

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Fiscus Recommendation Memo by WVLT News on Scribd

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