A lot of people we deeply respect are big fans of Mecklenburg County Health Director Marcus Plescia, and understandably so. He is intelligent, experienced, friendly and has brought a vision with several worthwhile initiatives, such as a smoking ban and a publicly funded farmers’ market.
Plescia’s actions and inaction, though, continue to raise questions about his management of the $70 million, 800-employee department. County commissioners and County Manager Dena Diorio need to press for answers to hard questions and determine whether Plescia still has the credibility to lead this vital agency.
The latest revelation is that Plescia demoted a member of his leadership team not long after she blew the whistle on the department’s mishandling of nearly 200 Pap smear test results. The Observer’s Fred Clasen-Kelly reports that Plescia removed Nursing Director Jacqueline Glenn from the department’s executive team in April, three months after she helped notify key county officials that women had not been told about abnormal Pap smear test results.
Plescia emailed Glenn last month and said the move was not punitive but that “it was important to make changes in leadership structure to handle this crisis.” No one else was removed from the executive team, Clasen-Kelly reported, and Plescia did not wait for a forthcoming consultant’s recommendation on how to restructure the agency’s management.
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Glenn’s demotion raises questions about whether she was punished for being outspoken about a significant problem within the department. It certainly has that appearance.
A smart manager, even if he had good reasons to move her off the executive committee, would understand the message that sends, especially given the timing. So Plesica’s move was either punitive or ill-advised, and neither is the mark of a good manager.
It’s essential that the Health Department be run properly. Thousands of low-income patients rely on clinics in west and southeast Charlotte for sound medical care. The department also regulates restaurants, child care centers and swimming pools and works to prevent the spread of illnesses.
But according to several current and former employees, the clinics under Plescia’s leadership are in disarray. Some patients wait for hours while others receive inaccurate test results and don’t get needed follow up attention. Some county commissioners said they have heard similar complaints from employees, and that workers are fearful they’ll be retaliated against if they report concerns to management.
Given all the turmoil at such a public-facing agency, it’s concerning that the county does not make Plescia or other executives available to talk to reporters. They should urgently want to convey to the public how they see the situation and what they are doing to fix it.
Clearly Plescia is armed with impressive credentials and has some good big-picture ideas about county health. But the health director, or someone with great authority right under him, needs to be able to make the trains run on time. If he can’t or won’t, the county needs a new conductor.