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Mills’ choice to lead Maine CDC ‘sat on his hands’ as people died, said two U.S. Senators

Dr. Nirav Shah (left) has been appointed by Governor Janet Mills (right) to head the Maine Center for Disease Control.

AUGUSTA – The man Governor Janet Mills has named to head Maine’s Centers for Disease Control left his previous job as the Illinois Director of Public Health under a dark cloud related to his handling of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at an Illinois veterans’ home that killed 12 people and sickened more than 200.

Most of Maine’s media did not pick up on the details of the story of Nirav Shah, who Mills announced on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend when she also announced she had signed a controversial bill to end vaccine exemptions in Maine.

According to the Chicago Tribune, an audit of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 people at Quincy Veterans’ Home showed that Shah “dismissed the need for having the CDC visit the facility on the eighth day of the outbreak that began Aug. 21, 2015.”

The audit said Mr. Shah was part of an effort to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak, which has seen recurring outbreaks. On November 5, 2018, Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, both Democrats, called on Shah to resign for his role in the debacle.

The audit also says the state of Illinois has spent more than $9.6 million in remediation at the facility as a result of the outbreak, and that the outbreak caused 220 residents and staff to become sick with Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionairres’ disease which is most serious in populations above fifty years old. As previously noted, the outbreak took the lives of twelve people.

The outbreak and response became a major topic of the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial campaign. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan even announced she was opening a criminal probe into the handling of the situation.

A report from radio station WBEZ in Chicago revealed that Shah had written in an email that the management of the water system that caused the outbreak was a “citable offense” and that if “we had wanted to cite them, we could have done so.”

The failure to hold those responsible for creating the initial problem accountable was one of the reasons cited in calls for investigations and for Shah to resign.

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s Commissioner of DHHS appointed by Mills, and Rep. Patty Hymanson (D – York), praised the appointment of Shah in a press release, touting his experience in Illinois and earlier in his career, Cambodia.

We are proud to welcome Nirav Shah to Maine CDC,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “His expertise and enthusiasm will serve the state well as he leads the revitalization of our public health system to improve the health and wellbeing of Maine people.”

“The health of Maine people is among our most critical priorities, and I’m confident that the state will benefit from his impressive experience and credentials,” said Rep. Hymanson (D – York) who chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Dr. Shah also commented in the official announcement, “I’m delighted to join the dedicated staff of Maine CDC to continue their momentum in rebuilding the state’s vital public health infrastructure.”

“I look forward to supporting the key initiatives of Governor Mills and Commissioner Lambrew, including restoring public health nursing, responding to the opioid epidemic, and avoiding the spread of vaccine-preventable disease,” he said.

The glowing praise stands in sharp contrast to a statement from Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, who represent Illinois in the United States Senate.

“There was definitive evidence that a serious public health crisis was underway at the veterans’ home in Quincy in 2015, and the Rauner Administration and Director Shah chose to sit on their hands as veterans and staff at the home fell victim to these deadly bacteria. It’s an outrage that time after time the Governor and his team prioritized public relations over protecting vulnerable veterans, their spouses, and staff at IVH Quincy. Director Shah’s response to this tragedy reflects the height of irresponsibility and negligence, and it’s time for him to go,” said Durbin and Duckworth.

The statement from Maine DHHS said Dr. Nirav Shah will start as Director of Maine CDC on June 3, 2019.

Excerpts in this story are drawn from a previous Maine Examiner story on Governor Janet Mills’ signing of a bill to end some vaccine exemptions in Maine.

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