Witness: Lyon revealed Flint disease outbreak in 2015
Flushing — Top staff members of Gov. Rick Snyder were told by Health and Human Services Department Chief Nick Lyon in September 2015 that there was a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, four months before the governor told the public, a witness for Lyon testified Monday.
Eric Brown, Snyder’s deputy director of federal regulations in Washington, D.C., said the information was presented by Lyon in a Sept. 18, 2015, conference call that he participated in, months before Snyder made it public in January 2016.
Brown, who at the time was Snyder’s senior federal policy representative with Congress, said he, Lyon, Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, urban affairs czar Harvey Hollins, and former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Brad Wurfel were on the call.
Lyon told the staff that there was an increase in cases of the respiratory disease, but that 73 percent of them “did not live in Flint” and there was no determination that the outbreak was related to the drinking water switch to the Flint River in April 2014, Brown said.
Lyon has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for allegedly trying to cover up the Flint area Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 others. Snyder notified the public of the outbreak at a Jan. 13, 2016, press conference in Detroit.
The preliminary exam hearing which began last September, is close to going to 67th District Court Judge David Goggins for a decision. Attorneys for Lyon said they may or may not call other witnesses on the next hearing date of May 21. After that, closing arguments will commence.
The governor’s office acknowledged in January 2016 that cases of deadly Legionnaires’ disease spiked dramatically in the Flint area after the city’s switch to river water in spring 2014, but argued it was undetermined if there was a connection with lead-contaminated water.
Brown reiterated the argument on the stand under cross examination by Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, who pressed Brown on why he didn’t share Lyon’s revelation with Congress.
“I would defer to the governor’s comments that it was a failure of government at all levels,” Brown said when asked by Flood if it was Lyon’s Department of Health and Human Services that failed in telling the public about the outbreak.
“I believe it is still incomplete,” Brown told Goggins, who is presiding over the seven-months-long preliminary hearing and will decide if Lyon’s case goes to trial.
Under cross, Brown said he didn’t feel it was his job to tell Snyder about the outbreak. “It would be the relevant health department officials,” he said.
Brown said he spoke to the governor once every two months but would correspond with others inside the governor’s office.
Brown said, “I don’t recall” when asked if Sept. 18, 2015, was the first time he heard about Legionella. He said he first learned of the Flint water crisis in August 2015 when one of Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ staff members asked him “about water quality issues in Flint.”
“So you’re saying you learned about Flint water crisis in August of 2015, and you’re the federal liaison for our state?” Flood asked Brown.
“Yes,” he said.
Kimberly Worden, a quality improvement director for the Hamilton Health Centers in Flint, also testified about Legionella cases and how the centers would refer specific cases to local hospitals.