Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, an obstetrician-gynocologist, leaves amid the nation’s worst flu epidemic in a decade.
The resignation was announced less than a day after Politico reported on Tuesday that Dr. Fitzgerald, 71, had traded in tobacco stocks even after taking the position at the public health agency. The tobacco trades were small: Dr. Fitzgerald bought between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of stock in Japan Tobacco in August, according to her financial disclosure forms, before she signed her ethics agreement. She sold the stock, as promised, in October, according to The New York Times.
Before assuming the post, she also had investments in major tobacco companies, including Reynolds American, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International, and Altria Group. Those were also sold in October, along with many of her other holdings.
In a September ethics agreement, Dr. Fitzgerald said she would divest from many stocks that might pose a conflict of interest. The other investments included CVS Health, Quest Diagnostics, AbbVie, and Zimmer Biomet Holdings, among others. But she also said that she and her husband, Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald, were unable to divest from some holdings because of legal or contractual restrictions. Those were GW Ventures and Greenway Messenger, which are limited liability companies formed to invest in Greenway Health LLC, an electronic health information company, and Isommune, a biotech company focusing on early cancer detection.
Read responses from elected officials and patient advocates in The New York Times.
Fitzgerald, 71, a physician who served as the Georgia public health commissioner until her appointment to the CDC post in July, said in an interview late last year that she already had divested from many stock holdings. But she and her husband were legally obligated to maintain other investments in cancer detection and health information technology, according to her ethics agreement, requiring Fitzgerald to pledge to avoid government business that might affect those interests.
Dr. Fitzgerald and her husband held “complex financial interests” that repeatedly forced her to recuse herself from the agency’s activities and kept her from testifying before lawmakers on public health issues.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the senior Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the CDC, said in a statement Wednesday:
It is unacceptable that the person responsible for leading our nation’s public health efforts has, for months, been unable to fully engage in the critical work she was appointed to do.
The CDC’s chief operating officer, Sherri Berger, sent an agencywide email that announced Fitzgerald’s resignation and said Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy, will be acting director effective Wednesday.
Read the view from The Washington Post.
After advising Secretary Azar of both the status of the financial interests and the scope of her recusal, Dr. Fitzgerald tendered, and the Secretary accepted, her resignation. Read the press release from the US Department of Health and Human Services.