Ousted public health staffer alleges Iowa open records law violations

June 2021 update: Carver-Kimm amended her lawsuit to include the two claims originally filed with the State Appeal Board. You can read the revised court filing here. The case is scheduled for trial in the summer of 2022. Original post follows.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s longtime communications director Polly Carver-Kimm filed suit on September 2, claiming she was wrongfully terminated, in violation of the state’s whistleblower law. Stephen Gruber-Miller first reported on the lawsuit for the Des Moines Register. I’ve enclosed below the District Court filing and Carver-Kimm’s parallel claims filed with the State Appeal Board.

Carver-Kimm was the lead media contact for IDPH thirteen years before she was told to resign or be fired in mid-July. Her attorney, Tom Duff, has represented other well-known Iowans who have sued the state on whistleblower claims or alleging wrongful termination, including former criminal investigator Larry Hedlund (who had caught the SUV carrying then Governor Terry Branstad speeding) and former Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven.

The day she was ousted, Carver-Kimm told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys she was “embarrassed and saddened by the way the media has been treated during COVID.” She asserted that she was stripped of her duties and eventually removed for being too open with journalists seeking information about the pandemic.

Her court filing and an accompanying news release from Duff’s office are more specific about alleged violations of Iowa’s open records law.

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Exclusive: Iowa's state medical director received 45% pay raise

The base pay for Iowa’s medical director and state epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati increased by 45 percent as the current fiscal year began on July 1, records obtained by Bleeding Heartland show. The additional $3,144 that Pedati began receiving per two-week pay period would translate to an extra $81,744 in base salary over twelve months.

The doctor leading the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response also received more than $55,000 in overtime pay from March through early July, even though her job class would not normally be eligible for overtime compensation.

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Governor: Feds "didn't have context" when approving antivirals for Iowa

Iowa is among a dozen states picked to receive shipments of the antiviral drug remdesivir for use in treating patients hospitalized for novel coronavirus, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on May 9. Our state will receive ten cases, which works out to 400 vials of the medication.

Governor Kim Reynolds implied at her latest news conference that when federal officials approved the shipment, they didn’t understand the reasons Iowa’s COVID-19 case counts have been rising. Publicly available information does not support that explanation.

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Staying 6 feet apart won't stop COVID-19 from spreading at church

Religious institutions across Iowa are now allowed to hold large services, under Governor Kim Reynolds’ latest proclamation related to novel coronavirus, which took effect on May 1. While most churches declined to schedule in-person services for this Sunday morning, some are looking at ways to modify their space or practices in order to resume face-to-face worship soon.

In mid-March, the governor temporarily prohibited religious or spiritual gatherings of more than ten people. Her April 27 order lifted that ban, provided that houses of worship “implement reasonable measures […] to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health.” Among other things, the department recommends that people practice good hygiene and adjust the layout so congregants not from the same household can “sit at least six feet apart.”

That advice is insufficient to keep those carrying the virus from infecting others.

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Iowa governor's COVID-19 strategy more faith-based than data-driven

For weeks, Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters at her daily news conferences that “data” and “metrics” informed her approach to slowing the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iowa.

That narrative flew out the window on April 27, when she unveiled her plan to lift some mitigation measures statewide and allow many kinds of businesses to reopen in 77 Iowa counties, effective May 1.

Reynolds and Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state medical director and epidemiologist, sought to spin the new policy as “evidence-based.” In reality, they are betting Iowans’ lives on the potential for data collection that has barely begun.

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The Iowa COVID-19 peak that wasn't

Three weeks ago today, Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter told reporters our state’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections might hit “a first peak in the next two to three weeks.” But Iowa has racked up more confirmed cases and deaths attributed to COVID-19 during the past three days than in any previous three-day period. Outbreaks continue to be identified in long-term care facilities and meatpacking plants, where one infected person can pass the virus to many others.

Governor Kim Reynolds imposed stricter limits on socializing outside the household in fourteen northeast Iowa counties on April 16. The next day, she ordered all schools in the state to remain closed through the remainder of this academic year. But even as the governor encouraged Iowans to stay home if they can, she asserted on April 17 that “there are a lot of really positive signs” and suggested officials may be ready to start opening things up in parts of the state soon.

Meanwhile, the country’s most widely-cited model for COVID-19 now projects that use of hospital resources and coronavirus deaths in Iowa will peak on May 7 and 8, respectively. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington also indicates that “relaxing social distancing may be possible” in Iowa after June 29. By comparison, the same model projects that the states of Washington and California already passed their peak for deaths and hospital resource use and may be able to scale down mandatory social distancing on May 18.

Why hasn’t Iowa turned the corner?

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