Maryland health officials will investigate allegations of racism against the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, the health secretary said Wednesday.
Dr. Angela Wakhweya, who is black, was fired as county health officer by the county council in January. She told The Capital that she is considering contesting her firing in the courts. She also said she witnessed “racism against clients, racism against staff and racism against leadership.”
Wakhweya's comments came after a meeting between state health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein and the Caucus of African American Leaders in Annapolis. The county health officer is a state-funded position appointed by the county executive and the secretary and council must concur on the appointment. Wakhweya is now director of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's office of school health.
Sharfstein said the department would look into the allegations, but declined to discuss why Wakhweya was removed, saying it was a personnel matter.
“We (have) the power to investigate, and part of my assumption tonight is we will investigate,” Sharfstein said. “That's very important to the people who have come forward.”
Wakhweya's removal generated discussions of racism, county health department employee George Phillips said. Others who spoke at the meeting said they'd seen a racist attitude toward people served by the department.
The decision to remove Wakhweya did not come from the council, according to County Councilman Pete Smith, who apologized to Wakhweya for the way she was removed.
“The process did not serve her. It did not work for her,” Smith said.
County health officers can be fired “at will,” with no cause given. House Speaker Michael Busch and Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk have said they plan to examine the removal process at the state level. Sharfstein said he would support the examination of that law.