Some of you may be worried that the spreading Ebola outbreak landed in Ohio on a Frontier Airlines flight from Texas a few days ago. But have no fears. You can all rest easy knowing that a medical professional with extensive public health experience is guiding our state’s response to the looming Ebola crisis… Right?
Ohio law requires that the head of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), the agency responsible for managing public health emergencies, be either a “physician holding the degree of doctor of medicine” or an “individual who has had significant experience in the public health profession.” But as we reported in early August, Governor John Kasich recently ousted Medical Doctor Ted Wymyslo as head of the ODH, replacing him with Rick Hodges, a former Republican state rep and lobbyist who is neither a medical doctor nor an expert in public health.
We raised concerns at the time of Hodges’ appointment about his ability to handle a crisis like this, noting that none of his many online résumés and bios included any experience related to public health. “When the Ebola outbreak or some other big public health emergency hits Ohio,” we wrote on August 2nd, 2014, “do you want an experienced medical doctor in charge of the health department? Or a guy whose top skills include ‘event planning’ and ‘public affairs and communications’?”
The Kasich Administration quickly responded to our concerns over Hodges’ qualifications… by having Hodges alter his LinkedIn profile. Within hours, Hodges’ profile was magically amended to include a marketing position with a small hospital in Wauseon, Ohio. Even with this new-found “experience,” Hodges still failed to meet the requirements set forth in state law for the director of ODH.
Kasich has made it clear, time and again, that he’s more interested in loyalty than experience or competence. He’s made it clear that political allies and friends get leadership positions in state government, and anyone who dares disagree or question him gets the boot. And he’s made it clear that he doesn’t care about state law or any of those pesky requirements like, you know, making sure the guy responsible for managing public health emergencies in Ohio actually has some knowledge and experience in public health.
We can’t really blame Hodges for being unqualified. But we can, and should blame John Kasich.
The big question here: will the specter of a catastrophic Ebola outbreak finally make John Kasich and his team rethink their strategy of appointing unqualified political allies to important positions in state government? Or will they simply cross their fingers, hope for the best, and make a note to have the next guy update his LinkedIn profile BEFORE they announce the appointment?