CDC director resigns because of conflicts over financial interests

Alicia Farmer
February 1, 2018

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned Wednesday as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over financial conflicts of interest involving her investments in health care businesses.

The day after the purchase, Fitzgerald "toured the CDC's Tobacco Laboratory, which researches how the chemicals in tobacco harm human health", according to Politico.

After advising [HHS Secretary Alex Azar] of both the status of the financial interests and the scope of her recusal, Dr. Fitzgerald tendered, and the Secretary accepted, her resignation.

Fitzgerald had also invested in food and pharmaceutical companies while she was on the job.

Click the audio player above to hear the full interview. In December, Murray sent Fitzgerald a letter saying the recusals prevented her from fully engaging on public health issues including the opioid epidemic.

"Like all Presidential Personnel, Dr. Fitzgerald's financial holdings were reviewed by the HHS Ethics Office, and she was instructed to divest of certain holdings that may pose a conflict of interest", the latter agency said.

Fitzgerald reportedly sold the tobacco stock in October. But they are not the only potential conflicts in Fitzgerald's baggage, highlighting the thin line that exists between public service and the perception of influence peddling.

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U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wrote Fitzgerald to say she was concerned about the unresolved financial holdings.

Fitzgerald's exit came four months after Tom Price resigned as the Health and Human Services Secretary after days of public outcry over his use of expensive private jets to conduct government business.

Following her appointment to the agency, Dr Fitzgerald bought thousands of dollars worth of stocks including stocks in Japan Tobacco, a global company that owns many prominent brands.

In the ethics agreement, Fitzgerald discussed long-term investments in an electronic medical records company and a biotech startup that focuses on early cancer detection. "She listed tobacco cessation as one of her primary priorities while still serving in the Georgia position in February 2017", Sarah Karlin-Smith and Brianna Ehley write. She led Georgia's state health department for six years before being tapped for the CDC job.

Fitzgerald, an obstetrician-gynecologist, was appointed to run the CDC in July.

Center for Science in the Public Interest president Dr. Peter G. Lurie tried his best to be upbeat about Fitzgerald's departure yesterday.

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