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Citing political tension, St. Louis County Public Health Director Faisal Khan resigns

St. Louis County Health Director Faisal Khan, left, and County Executive Steve Stenger declare a public health emergency due to the opioid crisis at a press conference Thursday in Berkley.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio
In this 2018 file photo, Faisal Khan announces a public health emergency related to opioid addiction crisis.

St. Louis County Department of Public Health Director Faisal Khan is leaving his post for a job in Kansas City.

Khan, who reports to County Executive Steve Stenger, said Friday that political tensions between the County Council and Stenger’s office have made it difficult to do his job.

“The gulf of trust that seems to have opened up between the two is the result of both sides being unwilling to come to the table and come to an agreement and understanding about the vital services provided in St. Louis County,” Khan said. “The apportionment of blame is equally to share.”

He cited the eight-month-long disagreement between the council and executive’s office over nurses’ pay raises at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center as an example of what he called “political obstructionism.” The problem could have been solved in a day, he said.

The lack of communication between the two departments was also on display in June, when the council approved the creation of an opioid task force shortly before the health departmentreleased a detailed action planto combat the addiction crisis. Stenger said then he assumed the council was unaware of the department’s plan.

“Trust in professional excellence is disregarded, and political expediency and cheap political point-scoring seems to be the order of the day,” Khan said. “That’s not a healthy situation, and the only losers in that equations are the residents of St. Louis County.”

Khan has worked at the health department for more than nine years, first as the director of communicable diseases. He became director in 2015.

In recent years, the opioid crisis became a large focus of Khan’s job. In addition to helping create the opioid action plan, Khan helped establish the county’sprescription-drug-monitoring system, which has expanded state-wide.

Khan will begin his new job as the CEO of Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Kansas City, on Oct. 1.

Chief Medical Officer Emily Doucette and Director of Health Promotion Services Spring Schmidt will act as co-directors once Khan leaves.

Once election year turbulence dies down, Khan thinks the council and the executive’s office will be able to negotiate more effectively.

“There are great people in St. Louis County government and in the council and office of the county executive, and I think things will improve eventually,” he said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter:@petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.