Contrary to current claims, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reportedly fired its previous Vaccine-Preventable and Infectious Diseases State Medical Director Dr. Michelle Fiscus due to months of unprofessional behavior and poor job performance. TDH Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones detailed issues with Fiscus at length in a recommendation for termination email to TDH Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.

Although Fiscus claims that she was fired for informing the public about the mature minor doctrine, TDH offered a laundry list of the issues Fiscus has reportedly caused. According to their records, Fiscus consistently engaged in inappropriate behaviors such as mistreating her colleagues and ignoring superiors. Her behavior reportedly caused two senior leaders to resign. She’d also been pushing TDH over the last three months to award funds to her nonprofit organization – though it had no staff or other major funds.

Jones’ full memo to Piercey is reproduced below:

Based on the program management deficiencies and failure to follow appropriate processes and procedures, please accept this recommendation to expire the executive service of Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Director, Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program (VPDIP), Tennessee Department of Health.

This recommendation is based on Dr. Fiscus’s failure to maintain good working relationships with members of her team, her lack of effective leadership, her lack of appropriate management, and unwillingness to consult with superiors and other internal stakeholders on VPDIP projects.

On multiple occasions during the 2020-2021 COVID response, Dr. Fiscus has failed to maintain satisfactory and harmonious relationships among her team. In February 2021, CEDEP leadership and TDH Human Resources received multiple complaints from program staff regarding her management style, treatment of employees, and poor program morale. Dr. Dunn met with five senior team members who expressed consistent complaints related to management of the program by Dr. Fiscus during the COVID response. He had several coaching sessions with Dr. Fiscus, with minimal improvement in the situation noted. Two of her most senior leaders have subsequently resigned.

On March 7, 2021, Dr. Dunn and I met with Dr. Fiscus and another departmental physician to mediate complaints against Dr. Fiscus of disrespectful treatment and inefficient management. The meeting terminated with a refusal of both parties to communicate constructively, and with a refusal by the other physician to work further on the VPDIP team. Dr. Fiscus was coached on professionalism and teamwork.

Dating back to December 2020, the vaccine planning team required intervention by CEDEP leadership to address inefficient use of team resources, including poor inter-program communication regarding vaccine distribution. Repeated failures by Dr. Fiscus to appropriately delegate to others resulted in repetitive, long, and inefficient meetings. These meetings took already busy colleagues away from other tasks.

Over the past three months Dr. Fiscus requested to give a new non-profit organization TDH funding to support VPDIP activities. This organization was founded and led by Dr. Fiscus, had no Executive Director or other employees, and had no substantive source of funding. Providing funds to such an entity would be poor judgment and a substantial conflict of interest.

In June 2021, Dr. Fiscus communicated directly with a state university regarding the department producing COVID-vaccine reports for the institution. She did not notify or consult with supervisors, and the situation only became evident when departmental legal counsel received formal documents directly from the university memorializing the arrangement. The requested reports were not produced by the department.

In May 2021, Dr. Fiscus broadly shared a letter regarding her own interpretation of state and federal law with external partners with respect to vaccinations and other medical treatment of minors. The letter should have been reviewed by both leadership and departmental legal counsel. However, Dr. Fiscus did not share the letter nor otherwise include any of these parties in the drafting process prior to sending it out. This action resulted in confusion of both law and policy for private providers, parents, and legislators.

These examples clearly demonstrate that Dr. Fiscus’s performance in this role has led to strained relationships with internal and external stakeholders at multiple levels, and to an ineffective and non-cohesive workplace. Her leadership and management of her team does not foster the culture or environment expected at the Tennessee Department of Health.

Fiscus denies that these assessments of her job performance are true, citing last year’s end-of-year job performance review. She also claimed that the TDH Office of General Counsel approved her controversial May letter expositing the mature minor doctrine, which states that minors aged 14 or older may be vaccinated without parental consent.

The change in TDH’s attitude toward Fiscus’s job performance may have occurred after their 2020 job performance review. Chronologically, the first incident that Jones cited occurred in December.

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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinnejournalist@gmail.com.
Photo “Dr. Michelle Fiscus” by the TN Dept of Health.