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DPH's Auerbach Resigns Amid Lab Scandal

This article is more than 9 years old.
Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach has resigned, according to the Patrick administration. (Photo: Office of Gov. Deval Patrick)
Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach has resigned, according to the Patrick administration. (Photo: Office of Gov. Deval Patrick)

This just in from State House News Service:

Amid a crime lab scandal, Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach has resigned, according to a Patrick administration official. Auerbach offered his resignation over the weekend and Gov. Deval Patrick accepted it on Monday. Auerbach is expected to remain on for a transitional period, according to the administration official.

Last Thursday, state officials announced that the bureau chief of the now shuttered state Jamaica Plain crime lab at the center of a controversy over the alleged mishandling of drug samples had resigned, a previously suspended lab director had been fired and the Patrick administration had begun “discharge proceedings” against a third crime lab supervisor.

Patrick administration officials are juggliing a crisis centering on more than 60,000 drug samples that may have been tainted by a rogue chemist leading to the shakeup. Lab Bureau Chief Dr. Linda Han resigned on Wednesday.

The director of the analytical chemistry division at the Department Public Health, Dr. Julie Nassif, was fired her role in a massive tampering case that Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby attributed in part to lax oversight and an “unacceptable delay” in notifying superiors.

Suspicion of the testing being conducted by chemist Annie Dookhan first surfaced in June 2011 when an evidence officer noticed that tests had been performed on 90 drug samples that had never been signed out of the evidence room, breaking the chain of custody. Nassif was notified of the breach in protocol, but she did not immediately inform superiors at the Department of Public Health, according to a chronology provided by state officials.

Days later, upon further inspection of the log book, officials found that Dookhan had added her initials and those of others to the sign-out sheet after the fact. Though she was immediately removed from full-time testing duties, Bigby said her office has since learned Dookhan continued to perform periodic testing and testify in court.

Here's Auerbach's statement, from the DPH website:

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“I thank Secretary Bigby for her leadership and principled commitment to promoting the health of residents of the Commonwealth. I offer my deep appreciation to the Governor for the opportunity to have held this position and I look forward to continuing my work to promote public health in my future endeavors.”

The Boston Globe quotes Gov. Patrick's statement:

The failures at the Department of Public Health drug lab are serious and the actions and inactions of lab management compounded the problem. The Commissioner recognizes that, as the head of DPH, he shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight.

While the recent developments are deeply troubling, they are not representative of the whole of John’s work or of the rest of the Department. For the past six years, John has run a department that improved public health and wellness. His and his colleagues’ commitment to the common good and the people of Massachusetts is unquestioned. It saddens me to accept his resignation today and I wish John well in the future.”

And the the Massachusetts Public Health Association released this statement:

"The revelations about the state drug lab are troubling, but are not reflective of the impact and accomplishments of Commissioner Auerbach. Over the last 6 years, John has been one of the nation's most effective and innovative public health leaders," said Maddie Ribble, MPHA's Director of Policy and Communications. "In the areas of chronic disease prevention, support for local public health officers, communicable disease control, and emergency preparedness, to name only a few, the Commonwealth is stronger and healthier for John's leadership."

This program aired on September 17, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.

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