LA County Public Health Director Isn't an M.D.; Why Do These Official Websites Say She Is?

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As we reported Friday, LA County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer is not an M.D.; she gained the title of Doctor by virtue of her Ph.D. in Social Welfare from Brandeis University. Ferrer is paid more than $500,000 a year by the financially-strapped county, and one of her top priorities is “advancing health equity.”

After our story was published a common reply from shutdown apologists was, “She didn’t say she was an M.D.” Perhaps not, but there are a disturbing number of references to her as an M.D. on official websites for professional organizations and health foundations and in annual reports.

In an August 15, 2019 press release, the Network for Public Health Law announced that “Dr. Ferrer, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., M.Ed” as a new member of their National Advisory Board.

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The Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts Foundation listed Ferrer, a board member, as an MD (leaving off her other credentials) in their “2007 Community Benefits Annual Report as submitted to The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, May 2008.” At the time Ferrer was the Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. She is listed the same way in the 2008 report.

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In this agenda for the Breastfeed LA Equity Summit, “Barbara Ferrer, MD, MPH, MEd” is listed as a speaker in the October 10, 2018 opening plenary session.

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From these examples it’s unclear whether Ferrer was holding herself out as an M.D. or not, but it’s clear that the misconception hasn’t been corrected in very important documents such as reports to a state Attorney General.

Regardless of whatever degrees Ferrer may possess, recent media attention from RedState and others put her in the hot seat. Over the weekend she made media appearances defending her qualifications to lead the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles County. Saturday morning Ferrer was interviewed on local television station KCAL and asked about media criticism of her qualifications and credentials.

Ferrer replied:

I appreciate the concerns, and certainly this is a tough job for anybody to have to do. The one thing I do want to note is, I don’t make decisions by myself. I have an amazing team of public health practitioners, including over 100 physicians who work here. There’s over 50 physicians who are, in fact, infectious disease doctors. There’s no way I, by myself, would be either reviewing the massive amounts of data that’s out there or making independent decisions from the clinical team that’s really doing a stellar job….This is really, you know, a vast collaboration with an enormous amount of clinical expertise to help make all of these decisions.

And I also think there’s a large group of public health practitioners. We may be not as well-understood. We’re often pretty invisible unless there’s a big crisis but we, too, have a lot of rigorous training around the science and the epidemiology of public health, around how to manage outbreaks, about how to, in fact, organize ourselves to really prevent diseases from overwhelming healthcare systems…those are degreed and accredited programs that many, many — again, hundreds of people here have gone through, including myself, and I think, you know, you do have to marry both sides of the house when you’re really trying to advance opportunities for us to safely move forward.

Shortly after that interview she appeared in a Facebook Live town hall with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl (relevant portion at -55:00).

Kuehl introduced Ferrer by saying:

“I’m very grateful to have our Director of Public Health with me….Dr. Ferrer has been compared by many to Dr. Fauci, who is known most for truth-telling, telling truth to power.

My point of view, anyway, is we’ve gotta go with the science. I’m trusting Dr. Ferrer to lead us through this, because it’s the experts who really understand.”

Oh boy. Truth to power? Say what?

Ferrer wasn’t really asked questions by Ferrer to start with, but seemed to be repeating a prepared statement addressing her qualifications (starting at about 8:40 into the video, or -51:10):

From a public health perspective, we’re the ones who are paying a lot of attention to the science….

And I do want to note that, you know, I’m one person, but behind me is an amazing team of accomplished clinicians who have medical degrees. I have a whole team of probably about 50 physicians who are specialists for infectious disease control. There’s another 50 physicians here who advise on all of the other sort of interrelated aspects of managing a pandemic. And then we have  the amazing and talented team of public health practitioners who are well-trained to actually be able to understand the epidemiology of the disease.

So I do want everyone to understand that, you know, this isn’t me. I’ve become the public face because I am the Director. But there is, you know, a superbly qualified team of folks here at the department that really help manage our ability to create a recovery plan for the county to move forward to.

Los Angeles County’s Health Officer, under whose authority Public Health Orders are issued, is Dr. Muntu Davis. Davis, trained at Harvard, is actually an M.D. with real-world experience working as a family practice physician at urban and rural health clinics. He was hired by Los Angeles County in 2018 and was previously the Alameda County Health Officer.

Under a new state law passed in 2019 and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, local health officers have very broad and unchecked authority “during an outbreak of a communicable disease.” AB 262 provides that in such a situation, or even in a situation in which the health officer deems there is an “imminent and proximate threat of a communicable disease outbreak or epidemic that threatens the public’s health”:

The local health officer may issue orders to other governmental entities within the local health officer’s jurisdiction to take any action the local health officer deems necessary to control the spread of the communicable disease.

Dr. Ferrer assures the public that she’s just one member of an enormous team, and that she’s just the face. But does anyone really think that if Dr. Muntu Davis wanted to issue an order differing from what Dr. Ferrer wanted, that he would keep his job? Doubtful.

(READ MORE about Dr. Ferrer’s professional background, including her ties to George Soros Open Society Institute, La Raza, and founding Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Centers HERE.)