Republican lawmakers said Thursday that Governor Deval Patrick’s health and human services secretary should resign because she did not act with enough urgency in responding to the tainted evidence scandal at a closed state drug lab.
“This isn’t about simply policy differences,” said Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the Republican leader from North Reading. “This is about much more than that. This is about moving an agency forward that desperately needs to regain public trust on many, many, fronts and needs to go in a dramatically different direction.”
Jones was joined at a State House press conference by four other members of his leadership team in calling for Dr. JudyAnn Bigby’s ouster. The group also wrote a letter to the governor underscoring their demand that Patrick replace Bigby to regain public trust in the agency, which was responsible for oversight of the drug lab in Jamaica Plain.
Jones said Bigby should have responded more quickly when the problem surfaced, as if a fire alarm had been set off.
Though Republicans hold scant power on Beacon Hill, their call to replace Bigby is a reminder that the allegedly tainted samples of thousands of drug samples remains a significant political liability for Patrick, a Democrat.
Support for secretary
The governor and other officials have blamed the problems on former state chemist Annie Dookhan, whom they have called a rogue employee at the former Department of Public Health lab where workers once tested contraband seized during drug investigations.
But defense lawyers, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services have insisted the problems were not limited to Dookhan and have called for reversing convictions in cases where drugs were tested at the lab. State officials have said Dookhan alone played a role in cases involving at least 10,000 people.
Bigby is also involved in the state’s response to a deadly meningitis outbreak that has been linked to a private compounding pharmacy based in Framingham, but Jones did not allude to that issue.
Immediately following the Republican press conference, several social services advocates voiced strong support for Bigby. The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers praised her “tremendous dedication” to good-
quality, affordable health care.
Kimberly Haberlin, a spokeswoman for Patrick, said that “Secretary Bigby has the Governor’s support.”
“She has served the public with distinction and integrity throughout her tenure and has accepted full responsibility for the breakdowns at the Department of Public Health,’’ said Haberlin. “The governor expects her to focus on fixing what went wrong and restoring the public’s confidence in the Department.”
A spokesman for Bigby, Alec Loftus, said in an e-mail that the events that led to the crisis at the state drug lab and the meningitis outbreak “are tragic and unacceptable, and people have been held accountable for these lapses.”
“We are taking action to ensure that these events are never allowed to happen again . . . She has and will continue to take the necessary actions to restore confidence in our Public Health Department as it continues to provide quality services to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations,” he said.