The Tennessee Department of Health has released records related to the firing of Michelle Fiscus, the state’s former top vaccine official, that allege multiple conduct issues leading up to her termination earlier this week. Fiscus says they are lies.
The recommendation for Fiscus’ termination came down from chief medical officer Tim Jones, a longtime Tennessee Department of Health epidemiologist who was permanently appointed to his position in December 2019.
In the memo, Jones wrote to Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey of Fiscus’ alleged failures to maintain good working relationships, claimed her leadership and management of the state’s vaccine program was ineffective and accused her of seeking to divert state funding to a nonprofit she founded to support Tennessee’s Vaccine-Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program, which Jones called “poor judgment and a substantial conflict of interest.”
The letter also said Fiscus had several complaints filed against her by colleagues in February and that she was unwilling to consult with leadership on projects, but the department declined to provide copies of those complaints without a formal request (which typically takes days to fulfill).
The Post obtained this information through a formal records request to the Tennessee Department of Health and discussions with Fiscus' husband, Brad Fiscus, who is serving as her media liaison. Representatives with the health department declined to discuss personnel matters.
Brad Fiscus, who last year ran against Republican state rep and former House Speaker Glen Casada as an independent, said the claims against Dr. Fiscus are demonstrably false and part of a smear campaign initiated by state GOP officials. He also told The Tennessean on Wednesday that his wife, prior to her firing, received an anonymous package that contained a muzzle.
Fiscus contends that Jones and deputy state epidemiologist John Dunn, who both were involved in the firing (health commissioner Lisa Piercey was out of office), told her they did not want to terminate her.
In a job performance review signed off by Piercey and given to the Post by Fiscus, Jones and Dunn gave strong reviews of her work in 2020, often saying she was "outstanding" and "exceeded expectations."
"Dr. Fiscus has been attentive to her team," the report concluded. "She has exceeded expectations in managing all programmatic activities while being fully immersed in C19 response efforts. She has appropriately and effectively advocated for her team. Her program has had some key transitions during this evaluation period which have been managed well."
The records come as Fiscus is on a national media tour following public outcry about her termination. She says the firing was politically motivated after a group of Republicans lawmakers expressed outrage over the department's efforts to encourage teens to get vaccinated.
In recent interviews, Fiscus told reporters the state has ceased outreach efforts to minors for all childhood vaccinations, not just COVID-19. Health department officials clarified that they are redirecting all information about vaccines to parents only because they are "simply being mindful of hesitancy and the intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general and how certain tactics could hurt that progress."
In an email to the Post about changes to childhood vaccination outreach on Tuesday, a representative said assertions the department was ending all childhood vaccination outreach were false, and boasted successes the department has seen (under Fiscus’ leadership) in vaccinating public school children: More than 95 percent of all kindergarten students in Tennessee were fully up to date on their immunizations during the last school year.