Our View | There’s No ‘Dr.’ in the House

Our View

By The Signal Editorial Board

Suppose you’ve got a cavity.

It needs filling. Would you go to someone who doesn’t have “DDS” after their name and hope for the best, or would you seek out a licensed dentist who has completed all of the education requirements to prepare someone for a career in dentistry?

Unless you’re on the most bargain-basement health plan ever, odds are you would want your dental work performed by someone who is… a dentist.

This hypothetical scenario reminds us of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, which has taken on an unusually high profile over the past couple of years as the county has been in the throes of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Public Health Department is headed by Barbara Ferrer. Note that her name here is not preceded by the abbreviation, “Dr.,” as it is in the county’s press releases. That’s because she’s not a medical doctor, and as most news publications do, we adhere to Associated Press style, under which “Dr.” is only used with the names of doctors in medical-related fields. 

This isn’t to say Ferrer is not well-educated. She does have a doctorate degree — in social welfare — from Brandeis University, as well as master’s degrees in public health and education.

The opening paragraph of her bio on The Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says she “is a nationally known public health leader with over 30 years of professional experience as a philanthropic strategist, public health director, educational leader, researcher, and community advocate.”

Interesting that “philanthropic strategist” leads the list. 

Ferrer, whose total compensation is just under a half-million dollars a year, is clearly an intelligent, well-educated person. 

But a medical doctor, she is not.

Yet, she is in charge of making medical decisions that impact millions of L.A. County residents every day.

This fact — which is often pointed out by her critics — was pointed out again last week by none other than Mike Antonovich, the retired former supervisor of L.A. County’s Fifth District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley and is now represented by Kathryn Barger.

Antonovich was a guest last week on the radio show of 790 KABC’s John Phillips, and he excoriated both Ferrer and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — and took particular aim at Ferrer after it was revealed that her daughter, who also is not a medical doctor, was a co-author of a study used by the Centers for Disease Control and L.A. County to support mask mandates.

When confronted about it in a county press conference, Ferrer was asked if she believed the public had a right to know of her daughter’s connection to the study, in order to maintain her credibility with the public.

Dripping with arrogance and condescension, Ferrer replied, “No, I don’t. I think the public knows what they need to know.”

Phillips played that audio, then asked Antonovich if he thought Ferrer should resign.

“She should resign and she should be fired if she doesn’t resign,” Antonovich said. “Her daughter is not even a medical doctor… Just as Barbara is a sociologist, she’s not a public health director, she’s getting nearly $500,000 a year to not give full disclosure to the public… her employer, because her daughter gives a report that mandates masks that have ruined a lot of our students, having to wear them or not go to school.”

If he were still on the Board of Supervisors, Antonovich said, he would introduce a motion to have Ferrer dismissed. “She deceived and there’s no excuse.”

“Here there was a complete deceiving the public about the conflict with her daughter,” Antonovich said. “Reminds me of (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi not knowing that her husband was putting a million dollars in some business with chips.”

The former supervisor added: “There’s a problem with integrity and ethics in the political arena today and we ought to start now by cleaning it up and getting rid of Barbara and bringing in an eminent public health medical doctor to be the head of the Public Health Department.”

Antonovich is right on multiple fronts: Ferrer’s disregard for the need for transparency is alarming, and the Public Health Department should be led by someone with medical credentials, not social ones.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors would never dream of hiring someone who’s not a lawyer to serve as county counsel. It’s a basic requirement of the job.

Similarly, the director of the Public Health Department should be properly credentialed as a medical doctor, preferably with a track record in applicable specialties — epidemiology, for example. 

Considering the massive impact Ferrer’s position and decisions have had on the daily lives of L.A. County’s 10 million residents over the past two and a half years, we should expect nothing less.

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