Panel studies city health director's qualifications

Panel studies city health director's qualifications

CITY HALL – For more than three months, St. Louis Director of Health and Hospitals Dr. Fredrick Echols has been the city’s chief point man in the fight against COVID-19.

Now he’s the target of a campaign to determine whether he has the qualifications to do that job, or any other work as health director.

In a committee hearing on Wednesday, members quizzed Echols and other city officials on whether the City Charter allows him to perform those duties, since he allowed his license to practice medicine so he could focus on public health.

The questions were brought by First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, who chairs the aldermanic Rules, Resolutions and Enrollment Committee. The Board of Aldermen recently passed a resolution sponsored by Tyus asking her committee to hold hearings on the subject. 

“What it is we shall be doing [is finding] if Dr. Echols is correctly licensed or correctly meets one of these qualifications and he’s been maligned, and [if] that’s not true, I think it’s something we need to know,” Tyus said.

“If he does not meet those qualifications, one of those requirements, then that is something we also need to know,” Tyus said. 

Her resolution says that “The Charter of St. Louis is specific in its minimum qualification requirement of the Director of Health, it is paramount that this Board determine if Dr. Echols has now or has ever had the minimum qualifications to hold the position of Director of Health.” 

Mayor Lyda Krewson defended Echols in a letter sent to aldermen on Wednesday.

“I hope Dr. Echols will continue to serve as the director of health and hospitals in spite of those personal attacks,” Krewson wrote. “We need his professional skills and credentials now more than ever.”

The mayor contends there is no doubt that Echols is qualified to serve as director.

“Clearly, the charter seeks to identify a number of possible qualifications for that health director. It allows someone with the minimum education of a Master’s Degree in Public Health to serve as director,” Krewson wrote in her letter. “Dr. Echols’ credentials as an MD with extensive public health training are far superior to the minimum qualifications allowed by the City Charter.”

Krewson appointed Echols last year. Echols formerly served as the Director of Communicable Disease, Vector and Veterinary Programs for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health in 2016-2019.

Before that, Echols was Chief of Communicable Diseases for the Illinois Department of Public Health in 2013-2016. He was a physician in the Navy and has a medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine.

Echols said at Wednesday’s hearing that he didn’t renew his medical license when he left the Navy so he could switch to public health.

The charter lays out three different sets of qualifications for being health director, Tyus said. Two of them don’t require a person to be a doctor. But she said Echols didn’t meet any of them. The charter states:

“The director of health and hospitals shall be a licensed practitioner of medicine and surgery and a graduate of an accredited school of medicine or shall have completed graduate work in an accredited school of public health to the level of a Master’s Degree in Public Health or have been certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. The director also shall have had at least three years of experience in the practice of medicine or shall have had at least three years’ experience in public health work, with at least two years of such experience in a responsible administrative capacity.” 

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