If you have read The Charlotte Observer in the last couple of weeks, you know that the Mecklenburg County Health Department neglected to notify 185 women of abnormal Pap smears for several months. This was a serious problem.
To respond, the Health Department has hired a physician to see the women with milder abnormalities in its clinic and has referred those with more serious Pap smear changes to a specialty clinic. It hired a retired investigator to search for women who could not be found. All have been located, including three who were out of state. (Having worked with low-income, transient patients who do not all speak English, I find this impressive.) And it has hired an outside consultant to look at its systems to ensure that this does not occur again.
The Health Department has owned the problem, taken every step possible to correct it, and, I believe, been open with the County, the public and the press.
There is no smoking gun, and there is not even much smoke left.
I think it is important to provide a larger context for the work of the Health Department.
Dr. Marcus Plescia has been the County Health Director for three years. Under his leadership, the Health Department has initiated a tobacco ordinance banning smoking in parks and county properties. It is playing a leadership role in seeing that long-acting reversible contraceptives, the most effective form of reversible birth control, will be available community-wide to women who choose them.
It also has expanded from 400 to 800 employees, incorporating Environmental Health and Child Development Services, due to a County reorganization – and did so seamlessly. And it has responded effectively to the crisis at the US National Whitewater Center after a teenager died after exposure to a rare amoeba.
I worked with Dr. Plescia in 1995 when he first came to Charlotte as a family physician working with the underserved. He was compassionate, conscientious and committed to the welfare of his patients, as well as to the community. He headed REACH 2010, a federally funded effort to improve health disparities in northwest Charlotte. He subsequently went to Raleigh to run the state chronic disease programs for the N.C. Division of Public Health and then to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to run the national cancer programs.
He has brought his commitment and integrity back to Charlotte, this time with even more skills. We are fortunate to have him.
Any large institution is susceptible to human error. The key is how it is addressed and whether problems are corrected.
It is time to accept Dr. Plescia’s mea culpa and let him get on with the work of helping us to be a healthier community.
Jessica Schorr Saxe is a family physician in Charlotte.