David Six, Burt County emergency manager and floodplain and zoning administrator, resigned Friday over frustrations with the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department and the handling of coronavirus cases.
Six requested names and addresses of those who tested positive for coronavirus.
Six gave a Lyons Mirror-Sun and Oakland Independent paper reporter access to emails which detail exchanges between Six, county officials and Melanie Thompson, emergency response coordinator for the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department which serves Burt County.
Thompson said the information Six was requesting wasn’t and isn’t available to emergency managers.
“At the time, it was the policy of most health departments in the state to protect that privacy,” she said. “We've been negotiating and started giving that information to dispatchers in Madison and Stanton. It hasn’t been confirmed for Burt or Cuming counties. The information has to be purged every three weeks.”
He emailed officials on April 28, “We are fighting a bit of a battle for information due to the perception of some about HIPAA. I truly believe we, being this group, have the right and need to know two things — first, of a positive test and second what town it is in. Personally, I would also like to know if it is a community or contact case. I am receiving some pushback from the health department on all of this.”
Thompson said the department is trying to keep the anonymity because of the stigma attached to those who are diagnosed with coronavirus.
“You can get this by walking through a space someone breathed in,” she said. “It’s airborne and people aren’t getting it because they have done something wrong. We have to be careful we are stigmatizing people for it.”
Thompson said Six wanted to know how to make decisions without the information. Thompson said she needs to know the why.
“Negotiations started last week, and we didn't have any conversations happening before,” she said. “In the end, Six was frustrated because he couldn't get the information and I couldn't give the information. I still won't be able to give the information to any emergency manager unless someone says something different.”
Knowing an address isn’t going to help, Thompson said.
“We need to treat this as if everyone has coronavirus whether you have it or not,” she said. “That's the only way we will be able to keep people safe whether you know the address or not.”
In an email with Robert Byrnes at Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems, Six shared the details of his decision to resign.
“I got in a fight with the health department over doing a local testing two weeks ago. (I) let the board know of problems with them not releasing adequate information the week before that. The board did nothing and during the heated exchange with the health department I used an (expletive) in a question I had asked four times,” he said.
“Meanwhile all this COVID may have been contained in our county had they listened,” he added.
In an email to county officials May 2, Six said there had been a rumored case in Decatur.
“So far these rumors have been the most dependable source of information as our health department is refusing to provide anything beyond a number, not a location and not whether it was a community, travel or contact related infection,” he wrote. “Please realize my utter frustration in having to stand back and watch this detrimental situation play out.”
Six said the emails he sent to the board and county officials show he’s been ahead of the issue so far.
“Whatever was coming, I was ready,” he said.
Six said he would miss doing this job.
“I’m sorry I cannot serve Burt County under these conditions," he said. "This work condition is toxic to me.”
Six said he asked for immediate testing in the Burt County area.
“There has been another case in Burt County. One of the road crew has tested positive, one courthouse employee and six of the road crew are quarantined for 14 days,” he wrote to county officials Sunday. “This is exactly why I fought with Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department for immediate testing a little over a week ago. As you probably know, I have tenured my resignation over this very issue.”
Burt County Board of Supervisors chairman David Schold said he wasn't surprised by the resignation.
“He was having struggles with some of the information he was being presented with and he didn’t always agree with it. It was bothering him and that is some of the reason he decided to give his resignation,” Schold said. “I really don’t know if I can actually say what all his reasons are. I don’t know them.”
The board voted at the board meeting Tuesday they will hire Josie Oliver as an interim for Six's position, starting Wednesday.