Ada County commissioners (facing camera, left to right) Ryan Davidson, Rod Beck and Kendra Kenyon at an August meeting in their chambers at the county courthouse. (Screenshot from Ada County’s YouTube page)
Ada County commissioners are delaying their choice on a nominee to be the only doctor on the Central District Health board. They voted Tuesday to table the discussion until Aug. 17.
The public health district’s board has power over the agency’s leadership and budget. It also can issue public health orders.
Central District Health oversees inspections of restaurants, child care centers and other facilities used by the public. It also conducts epidemiology and infectious disease prevention and response. The pandemic has consumed much of its attention.
The nominee must be approved by a total of at least seven commissioners in Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties before the selection is official.
Three local doctors applied for the role: Dr. Sky Blue, a local epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist; Dr. Ryan Cole, a pathologist who owns Cole Diagnostics laboratory; and Dr. Stanley Moss, a retired orthopedic surgeon.
During candidate interviews Monday, Commissioners Rod Beck, Ryan Davidson and Kendra Kenyon questioned the candidates on their experience with budgets, interest in routine public health and their opinions on the pandemic, COVID-19, preventive measures and the balance between a community’s health and an individual’s choices.
“This whole process has been somewhat frustrating to me, because of the politicization of the other processes,” Beck said at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.
The seat came open after Beck and Davidson, the commission’s two Republican members, decided not to renew the term of Dr. Ted Epperly, who runs the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho. Epperly said he believed it was a political decision.
Near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, a commissioner threw a curve ball: She proposed the commission nominate Moss, under the condition that he consult with Blue and Cole on any decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commissioners will consider public comment before they meet next week.
Davidson said he wants Dr. Ryan Cole
Davidson said Tuesday he favored Cole.
“I recognize the fact that he’s a bit of an outsider,” Davidson said. “And as I’ve said previously, I respect that because I consider myself an outsider, and I think … it may be valuable to bring a different point of view.”
He also said he appreciated Cole’s focus on diet and overall health.
Davidson said that a health board member with “different viewpoints” could talk to people with vaccine hesitancy in Ada County.
Beck said he believed, based on surveys, that people would look to their individual doctors and not the public health department for that advice.
“In all honesty, this position is for running an organization, and it’s mainly budgets,” Beck said. “They talk about policy, but they mainly deal with budgets.”
Cole said Monday that he makes the ultimate decisions on budgets for his laboratory, Cole Diagnostics. That swayed Beck in his direction.
The commissioners on Monday did not ask Cole about his misinformed comments on COVID-19, vaccines or his decisions to prescribe ivermectin to patients in other states and champion its use. The anti-parasite drug is specifically not recommended by health officials in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
Central District Health oversees the distribution and in some cases administration of vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
Cole recently said the vaccine is “a poisonous attack on our population, and it needs to stop now.” He called it a “clot shot” and “needle rape.” The speech, delivered to a fringe group of physicians who disseminate disinformation about COVID-19, also included several factual errors and misrepresentations.
Cole has falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine has killed thousands of people. The Idaho Capital Sun in a recent interview asked Cole if he personally had read the reports on which he based that claim. He did not answer. The Sun has reviewed the reports; his claims are false.
“Delta has escaped what we are doing. We need to societally pivot right now,” he told the commissioners Monday. “We’re giving a vaccine right now for something that was four variants ago.”
He then alluded to ivermectin as a prevention drug.
Kenyon on Tuesday noted that Cole had attracted attention through his statements.
“I don’t think we need a lot of controversy in this position,” she said.
Beck on the fence, but impressed by Moss
Moss said vaccinations are the escape route from the pandemic.
“The only thing that is going to end the pandemic is when everyone is immune to it, or the vast majority of people are immune to it,” Moss told the commissioners Monday.
There are two ways to achieve that, he said. The first and best way, he said, is through safe and effective vaccines that almost everyone chooses to take, he said. The second way, reaching “natural” herd immunity through infection, would kill and harm many people, he said.
Moss stressed that he believes proper education is key. He said he believes people would choose to be immunized if they had accurate information.
He noted that almost all doctors in the U.S. have been vaccinated, but overall vaccination rates remain low in the U.S. “If the general population had the same information and confidence in the vaccine, that rate would be much higher,” he said.
Beck said he was impressed by Moss’s measured and direct responses to the questions Monday, and that his priorities included protecting individual liberties.
Kenyon said she favored Blue, then proposed a compromise
Blue praised vaccines as one of the most effective public health measures available.
“If we had to look at a tactic to promote and protect the health of our communities, you have to look at vaccination,” Blue said. “Vaccines throughout our history have been life-saving measures in many many different ways.”
He, like the other two candidates, admitted he wasn’t familiar with the CDH budget, its workforce or its taxpayer funding.
He said he has the skills required to help oversee a large organization. He cited his experience running a local HIV clinic with a $900,000 budget, which required applying for competitive grants and watching how every dollar was spent.
Kenyon on Tuesday said that it was important to “pick someone who has a reputation in the community” related to the position.
“This is a medical position. What does the medical community have to say? And the medical community spoke loud and clear supporting Dr. Blue,” Kenyon said.
But after a lengthy discussion, she proposed a compromise: The commission could nominate Moss, with the stipulation that he would consult with Blue and Cole on any decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
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