Snyder makes Wells Michigan’s full-time medical exec

Karen Bouffard The Detroit News

Michigan’s chief medical executive has become a full-time position as Michigan deals with lead-contaminated water and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint.

Dr. Eden Wells became the state’s full-time chief medical executive with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 1 after holding the position part-time since May 1, the department said Friday.

The state’s Public Health Code requires that “The chief medical executive shall be a full-time employee....” The Snyder administration turned it into a half-time position when the Republican took office in January 2011.

“While previously Dr. Wells was technically a part-time employee, she was a full-time resource for the department,” spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner said in a Friday statement. “This change was made to more accurately reflect Dr. Wells’ work for the department and Michigan residents.”

Wells went on leave Feb. 1 from the University of Michigan, where she has been a clinical associate professor at the School of Public Health. She had split her time between the university and the state the prior nine months, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Friday

“Dr. Wells is 100 percent with the state,” Fitzgerald said. “She has taken a leave from U-M, and all of her U-M duties have been reassigned.”

She has advised on the Flint water crisis as well as the Legionnaires’ outbreak in Genesee County that has resulted in 87 cases and nine deaths in the past year and a half.

Wells’ annual salary is $184,000, and she reports to department Director Nick Lyon, Eisner said. She succeeded Dr. Matthew Davis, who held the post part-time for more than two years, and Dr. Dean Sienko.

Michigan’s last full-time chief medical executive was Dr. Gregory Holzman, who served mostly under Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm from 2006 to 2011. He left the Snyder administration on May 4, 2011, and currently is the state medical officer in Montana.

Wells has assumed a higher public profile since Gov. Rick Snyder has been holding news conferences about lead-contaminated water and Legionnaires’ cases in the Flint area. Legionnaires’ is a respiratory illness caused by a certain bacteria in warm fresh water that leads to pneumonia and is usually contracted during warmer weather.

Some of the state health department’s advice to Flint residents has created controversy. Some medical professionals expressed concerns last month about a state Department of Health and Human Services recommendation that children could be bathed in the city’s tap water.

Wells defended the recommendation by saying lead is not easily absorbed into the body through the skin. But she noted that parents should monitor their children to make sure they don’t swallow the water.

“Bathing a child, getting them clean and getting them out is the best way to make sure they’re not drinking unfiltered water,” Wells said.

kbouffard@detroitnews.com