Exclusive: CDC director explains why she quit - CBS46 News

Exclusive: CDC director explains how entangling investments forced her to quit

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Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald explains how she became involved with entangling investments (WGCL) Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald explains how she became involved with entangling investments (WGCL)

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the Centers for Disease Control director with Georgia roots who was just appointed to lead the organization in July, is already stepping down because of a financial conflict of interest.

She made the decision one day after Politico released an article highlighting her investments in the healthcare industry and tobacco companies. Both investment categories present ethical dilemmas for someone in her position.

Critics were ready to pounce when they heard the person in charge of the campaign to get Americans to quit smoking had financial interest in doing the opposite.

But the former director tells CBS46 the situation is not as simple or sinister as it appears on the surface.

"I don't want to be invested in tobacco...I've been a doctor for 30 years. I have been against tobacco use in any form that entire time. I've been vocal then, and I'm vocal now," said Fitzgerald.

She says the tobacco stock was something her financial investor bought for her without considering the implications, and it was only in her portfolio for a couple months before it came to her attention.

"As soon as we knew about it, we said sell it," she said.

Even though the tobacco issue is what's gripping the headlines now, she says that mistake was taken care of months ago, and it's not the reason she's stepping down. The real problem is her investments in healthcare technology, specifically a Carrollton-based company called Greenway Health, that she helped to fund long before she ever thought about leading the CDC.

"A lot of local people invested in the company, but... it's not stock, so we can't sell it," explained Fitzgerald.

She explained how she's been trying very hard to remove herself from the investment, but because of the unique way it's set up, she legally cannot separate herself from the company.  She can't even give her share away for free to someone else. 

She said of the divestment process, "It's taking too long, and it's too much of a distraction from the CDC work, so that's why I offered my resignation"

If it seems drastic to step down over an honest mistake, it should be noted that because of these financial conflicts of interest, Fitzgerald was unable to perform parts of her job, like testifying before Congress on certain issues if they overlapped with her investments. 

Because of that, she felt like it would be better to step aside than to hold back CDC projects.

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