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Public Health Reports: Criticized, Fired, Sued, or Prosecuted: Hindsight and Public Health Accountability

In a recent article in Public Health Reports, Mr. Lance Gable, an internationally known expert on public health law and bioethics from Wayne State University and Dr. James W. Buehler, clinical professor in health management and policy at Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, discuss the bounds of accountability of public health officials for unsuccessful public health decisions. They use as example the 2017 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, when state public health officials were charged with serious crimes, including involuntary manslaughter, for the death of a man in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which occurred during the water crisis (Legionella bacteria thrived in the conditions created in Flint’s corroded water pipes). Although the outcome of the criminal charges in Flint will not be known for a considerable amount of time, authors argue that this case will not likely — and should not — set a precedent for future prosecutions of public health officials under criminal law.

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