The State (Columbia, S.C.) (07.15.2013)
Catherine Templeton, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), stated that she dismissed key agency staff members because of the department’s poor response to the TB outbreak in a Greenwood County school. More than 100 Greenwood County residents, including more than 50 school children, have tested positive for TB. Templeton fired at least four DHEC workers due to the way they handled the investigation.
Three of the dismissed workers have sued DHEC, stating that high-level staff wrongly fired them and made them “scapegoats.” The nurses claimed they tried to take swift action to test the children and inform the public, but indifferent officials in the Columbia headquarters stifled their attempts. They are seeking damages and job reinstatement.
Templeton maintained that DHEC’s missteps were made in the regional offices and by a top-level official in Columbia. She stated that the regional staff and Columbia TB program official did not view the investigation as urgent, so the probe moved slowly. She fired the state TB director as well. Templeton said that the department was preparing to file responses to the lawsuits. Templeton explained that she learned about the problems with the TB investigation when she made a surprise visit to the regional office. Within a week, she ensured that parents were informed testing was arranged for the students. She felt that DHEC should have tested some children in March at the same time as teachers who used a room that shared a vent with the infected worker’s area instead of giving a “flimsy” excuse for not testing the children.
In addition, Templeton noted that she would not have approved of two DHEC nurses running a TB consulting firm they formed May 17 while working for DHEC. She said the nurses had not filed a dual employment form with DHEC, and if they had, the department would have denied it as a conflict.