Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2018  Vol. 17 No. 2
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Director Levy Is Taken to Task by Flannagan
October 10, 1919

Former Health Officer Criticizes Omission of Part of His Annual Report


Points Out That Printed Booklet Does Not Contain Complete Facts on Work Done During Influenza Epidemic

Declaring that the omission in the 1918 Richmond health report of the chapters relating to the handling of the influenza epidemic last fall is not only a reflection upon his administration as Chief Health Officer, but unfair to the self-sacrificing physicians and nurses who gave themselves unsparingly to care for the stricken people of the city, Dr. Roy K. Flannagan, former head of the Health Department, has addressed an open letter to Dr. E. C. Levy, Director of the Department of Public Welfare, condemning his action in either purposely or by oversight making the important omission.

Dr. Flannagan’s letter follows:

Dr. E. C. Levy,
Commissioner of Public Welfare,
Richmond, Va.

Dear Sir,—Having been out of the city for ten days, I have just had placed in my hand a printed copy of the annual report of the Health Department of the city of Richmond, submitted by me as Chief Health Officer for the year 1918.

After my resignation, taking effect January 15, 1919, it devolved upon your office the duty of sending this report in its final form to the printer. I note, with surprise and chagrin, that the detailed report of the influenza epidemic of last fall has been left out in its entirety, and that certain references to it in the body of the report have been edited out.

Didn’t See Proofs
Since I was not given opportunity to see the proof of the report as it came from the printer, and since I had no intimation that the city’s splendid fight against the disease was to go unrecorded, I wish hereby to vigorously disclaim all responsibility for such an inexcusable omission.

Notwithstanding Richmond’s heavy death toll from influenza, our record was much better than most cities similarly situated.

The country at large, as well as the Richmond public, are entitled to have recorded in permanent form the steps by which such a result was attained. Waiving the reflection that such an omission casts upon my administration as Chief Health Officer not to publish in full the reports of the self-sacrificing physicians and nurses who gave themselves so unsparingly to the stricken people of Richmond, shows a lack of appreciation of public service that I cannot think will be permitted to stand.

Very sincerely yours,

Fought Flu Epidemic
When the influenza epidemic struck Richmond, Dr. Flannagan was Chief Health Officer and every force in the city was put into play by his office to check the spread of the disease and to treat those suffering with it. John Marshall High School was turned into an emergency hospital for white patients and Baker School for colored patients.

Later in the year Dr. Flannagan decided to resign as Chief Health Officer to accept the position of Assistant State Health Commissioner for Virginia. Before severing his connection, however, Dr. Flannagan wrote the report of the Health Department for 1918. His resignation took effect on January 15, 1919. It was then that he turned the manuscript of the report over to Dr. Levy to be sent to the public printer for publication and transmission to the Mayor.

Included in Dr. Flannagan’s manuscript report was an important section telling of the fight against influenza and the heroic work of doctors and nurses in their efforts to stamp it out here.

Citizens Made Reports
With the report of Dr. Flannagan on the influenza epidemic were the reports of Dr. E. C. Miller and Dr. Lawrence Price, who were in charge of the emergency hospital at the John Marshall High School, Mrs. Agnes Randolph, Dr. Stuart Michaux, chief of medical staff for the emergency work, and Dr. Hughes, a colored physician, who supervised the treatment of colored patients at the Baker School.

Not only did the report of Dr. Flannagan reviewing the whole situation fail to appear, but the reports of all the physicians who took an active part in the work were also omitted, it was pointed out. This Dr. Flannagan did not discover until last night when he returned to Richmond after an absence of ten days. He immediately wrote the open letter to Dr. Levy. The annual report has just been published.

So efficient was the work of handling influenza in Richmond during the epidemic that it was generally recognized in medical circles throughout the country, said Dr. Flannagan last night. It gained high rank in comparison with the methods used in New York and Chicago, and for that reason the omission of the report was all the more glaring, he declared.  

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