This is the latest serious accusation from a former Department of Health insider who calls into question the Lee administration’s use of your money for a $ 26.5 million non-tender contract. with a politically connected company with no experience in testing.
This dubious contract, first exposed by NewsChannel 5 survey, triggered a legislative hearing in December.
Now, an independent review by NewsChannel 5 raises serious questions about some of the claims made by Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey during her testimony before the Legislature’s Tax Review Committee.
“We knew she was not telling the truth with this committee,” said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who until recently was a key member of the Tennessee pandemic response.
“When she was in a hurry on certain issues, she was not telling the truth. “
NewsChannel 5 survey Fiscus asked of one of his colleagues in the health department texting him about their commissioner’s testimony, saying, “Lies! Lies! Lies! “
“It’s true,” she admitted.
We continued, “The concern was that the health commissioner was lying to the legislative committee? “
” That’s right. “
Piercey testifies that the pitch came “from another state”
Take, for example, the question of where the contract came from.
“Was this vendor brought in by the governor’s office?” Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, asked the commissioner.
Piercey agreed, adding, “From another state that has had success with this. “
In fact, emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 survey show that a Republican political consultant had in fact contacted Governor Bill Lee’s chief of staff, who put him in touch with Piercey.
Two weeks later, Ministry of Health staff received the “good news” that “the commissioner is in the process of concluding a contract – probably already signed”.
Piercey testifies that she “sought” staff opinion on the deal
Representative Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, asked Piercey about this timeline.
“It surprises me that you didn’t ask the people who were actually responsible for overseeing the test,” Curcio said.
The Commissioner’s response: “Solicited a lot of feedback from our laboratory staff and my management team. “
“I think soliciting feedback and listening to your experts are two different things,” Fiscus said.
As our investigation first revealed, the well-respected head of the Tennessee State Laboratory, Dr. Richard Steece, emailed supervisors: “Please tell me. that we can get out of this contract? Or better yet, it was not signed? “
Steece was informed that the contract was already “signed, sealed, delivered”.
Piercey testifies lab staff are not concerned about test reliability
“The biggest lie I heard was when she said that Dr Steece, who is the head lab, was not concerned about the quality of the tests,” Fiscus said.
In fact, Piercey was asked about Steece’s concerns.
“The part that worried him was not necessarily the part that ended up failing,” said the commissioner.
At another point, she claimed that Nomi had been able to address concerns from health department staff about the reliability of her tests.
“We were happy with it – and that includes Dr Steece and Dr Levinson,” Piercey told Curcio, referring to deputy lab director Dr Kara Levinson.
In fact, Steece and Levinson had expressed their “significant concerns” that the Nomi test would generate “false negative results” – the exact problem which would be the collapse of the agreement.
Fiscus recalled, “They got to the point where they didn’t allow Dr Steece to attend the meetings because Dr Steece was so loud in his opposition to Nomi. “
Piercey testifies state could still use Nomi test kits
And when Nomi’s tests failed, Piercey still agreed to pay the company nearly $ 6 million.
“About two and a half million of that was for one hundred thousand test kits,” Piercey said.
She told the Financial Review Committee that because there was still a lot of testing to be done, that money was not wasted.
“The actual kits are pretty agnostic, if you will. You can use them on pretty much any platform, ”Piercey said.
But the state’s final review of Nomi’s product was clear: “The sample collection kits provided by Nomi contain a transport medium that cannot be used on other COVID-19 platforms” at the lab. ‘State.
Another email referred to the substance in Nomi’s test kits as a “mystery.”
“Nomi would never tell the lab what was in the transport rack, in the test kits – and they just knew by looks that it wouldn’t be compatible with any of the other platforms in the lab,” said Fiscus.
NewsChannel 5 survey followed: “So what are you saying is that the money has been wasted?” “
Dr Fiscus agreed.
“They couldn’t be returned to Nomi, nor could they be used by the state. “
Fiscus said what the commissioner was unwilling to tell state lawmakers is this: the entire contract was a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.
“Because having an egg on your face and it not working out wasn’t going to look very good.” “
NewsChannel 5 has contacted Commissioner Piercey’s office to give them a chance to respond to each of the discrepancies highlighted in our report.
Their response, simply: “Dr. Piercey stands by his testimony.
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