In response to critics who have questioned her credentials as director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Barbara Ferrer cited the collaborative process involved in leading the agency during the COVID-19 crisis.
In an interview with KTLA on Saturday, Ferrer explained that the department employs more than 100 physicians, dozens of them infectious disease doctors.
For weeks, Ferrer has led daily coronavirus briefings as the county’s top health officer.
She has become a familiar face to many Angelenos. She has brought sobering news, including the outbreak’s toll on the community, which remains under strict measures as the epicenter of the pandemic in California.
“I appreciate the concerns,” Ferrer said of detractors such as conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro, who recently questioned her scientific background.
Ferrer has served more than three decades in the public health field, including as Boston health commissioner. She holds a doctorate in social welfare and masters degrees in public health and education.
“This is a tough job for for anybody to have to do,” she said. “The one thing I do want to note is I don’t make decisions by myself. I have an amazing team of public health practitioners… There’s no way I, by myself, would be either reviewing the massive amounts of data that’s out there, or making independent decisions from the clinical team that’s really doing a stellar job.”
A local radio broadcaster last Wednesday also brought up her background in a news conference when asking about the continued closure of malls.
“With all due respect, you have great credentials, great background and degrees and experience in public health, but you’re not a medical doctor,” said Jim Roope of Westwood One News. “So who’s making the, what we assume are medical science-based decisions?”
Ferrer cited the work of her team, and she pointed out that indoor malls cannot reopen due to state rules.
Meanwhile, experts have commended her work, including her predecessor, Dr. Jonathan Fielding.
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Dr. Stephanie Hall, the chief medical officer of USC’s Keck Hospital, acknowledged some initial concern among health care professionals that Ferrer was not a medical doctor like Fielding. But having worked with Ferrer on the county’s COVID-19 response, Hall applauded Ferrer’s work with her deputies and other experts.
“I found her to be incredibly straightforward and honest. … When some people want to lead … sometimes they add a spin or try to make it appear they know more than they do,” Hall said.