TGNWS 2-1 Brenda Fitzgerald 2.jpg

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald shows infographs during a presentation in Carrollton in August of 2017.

Melanie Boyd/Times-Georgian

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned Wednesday as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over financial conflicts of interest involving her investments in health care businesses.

Fitzgerald’s complex financial investments presented conflicts that made it difficult to do her job, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC. In an ethics agreement filed in September, Fitzgerald had said that legal and contractual restrictions prevented her from selling two investments.

Fitzgerald, of Carrollton, is an OB-GYN and had been head of the Georgia Department of Public Health since 2011 before being appointed to the CDC post. 

Alex Azar, who took office on Monday as head of Health and Human Services, accepted her resignation Wednesday after discussing the investments with her and their effect on her work.

“I consider Dr. Fitzgerald a friend,” said Carroll County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marty Smith. “I am sure that her decision to resign was out of concern to not distract from the serious issues the CDC has to face daily.”

Smith said he is disappointed that Carroll County will no longer have as strong a voice on a national level but he hopes to continue to be able to seek her advice on local issues with regards to community health. He said he

see CDC/page A3

 

knows personally that she cares deeply about the community.

Fitzgerald had she wanted to spend time learning about the agency, but also acknowledged a financial conflict of interest kept her from appearing at a congressional hearing on opioids in early October.

Health and Human Services spokesman Matt Lloyd said in a prepared statement that Fitzgerald owned complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC director. Lloyd said in the statement that due to the nature of these financial interests, Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.

The Associated Press reported Fitzgerald’s resignation followed a news report Tuesday that her financial manager bought tobacco and drug stocks after she took the job in July, while selling other stocks that posed a conflict of interest.

Before she became the CDC’s chief, she owned a range of stocks, including holdings in beer and soda companies, the tobacco company Philip Morris International, and a number of health care companies, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wrote Fitzgerald to say she was concerned about the unresolved financial holdings.

The CDC began a campaign called Tips From Former Smokers, which shares important facts to know for smokers and non-smokers. The CDC’s campaign webpage shares real stories, diseases and conditions of smokers, the impact and results of the campaign, as well as videos to help prevent individuals from smoking.

Fitzgerald’s resignation follows a news report Tuesday that her financial manager bought tobacco and drug stocks after she took the job in July, while selling other stocks that posed a conflict of interest.

In the ethics agreement, Fitzgerald discussed long-term investments in an electronic medical records company and a biotech startup that focuses on early cancer detection. She said in the agreement that she would not participate in matters that might affect those companies. Those investments prevented her from talking about cancer and prescription drug monitoring programs, Murray wrote.

Fitzgerald, 71, was a longtime OB-GYN, is a former major in the U.S. Air Force, and campaigned twice, unsuccessfully, as a Republican candidate for Congress in the 1990s. She led Georgia’s state health department for six years before being tapped for the CDC job. She was appointed by Dr. Tom Price, who was a Republican congressman from Georgia before President Trump picked him to head HHS. Price resigned in late September after his costly travel on chartered planes triggered investigations and angered Trump.

The CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, is the only federal agency headquartered outside of Washington, D.C. It has nearly 12,000 employees, and about three-quarters of them are based in the Atlanta area.

Erin McSwain-Davis and Mike Stobbe of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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