Tennessee health department releases reasons for vaccine chief's firing

The firing appears to center on vaccinating minors without parental consent.

Published: July 15, 2021 6:34pm

Updated: July 16, 2021 10:18am

(The Center Square) -

The Tennessee Department of Health says the head of the state’s vaccine program was fired over a lack of leadership, poor working relationships with the members of her team and an unwillingness to consult with superiors.

The explanation about the dismissal of Dr. Michelle Fiscus was set fourth in a letter released Thursday by the health department. 

Fiscus told the Tennessean newspaper Monday she was fired as the result of sending a memo to vaccine providers about the Mature Minor Doctrine, which related case law from 1987 interpreted to say minors could choose to get health care, including a vaccine, without parental consent.

The letter, dated July 9, was sent from Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones to Commissioner Lisa Piercey.

It recommends termination and states the state's Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness Division leadership and heath department's human resources office received "multiple complaints from program staff regarding [Fiscus'] management style, treatment of employees, and poor program morale.”

Fiscus' memo was the subject of debate at last month's Tennessee Governmental Operations meeting, a joint committee of the state General Assembly, at which several Republican members voiced concerns about how the judicial case was presented.

"The department of health is targeting our youth," said state GOP Rep. Scott Cepicky. "We know how impressionable our young people are and wanting to fit in in life. Personally, I think it’s reprehensible that we would do that to our youth in Tennessee.”

Jones’ letter said Fiscus sent that memo with "her own interpretation of state and federal law."

"The letter should have been reviewed by both leadership and departmental legal counsel," Jones wrote. "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."

The complaints led to the department discontinuing adolescent vaccine outreach for other vaccines, according to state Democratic leaders. 

Department officials, however, said, "We have in no way halted the immunizations for children program."

Fiscus says she didn’t know about Jones' letter until a reporter informed her Thursday.

Her termination reportedly came after years of glowing performance reviews, including a 2019-2020 review that stated  she "exceeded expectation" in managing programs.

The letter from Jones detailed other issues at the department over the past year, including a March 7 meeting to mediate complaints against Fiscus regarding her alleged "disrespectful treatment and ineffective management."

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