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Business owner suing over St. Louis stay-at-home order calls for health director to resign over lack of medical license

The city says Dr. Fred Echols 'misspoke' when giving testimony about his qualifications in a lawsuit against the city
Credit: UPI/Bill Greenblatt
St. Louis Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols, announces the City of St. Louis has recorded its first case of Coronavirus as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson stands near, in St. Louis on Monday, March 16, 2020. Saint Louis University President Dr. Fred Pestello confirmed the patient was a student that had been traveling. The student tested positive and is now self-isolating. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

ST. LOUIS — Dr. Frederick Echols' resume includes serving as a physician in the U.S. Navy, work with the State of Illinois during the Ebola outbreak and becoming the first medical doctor to serve as the city's Director of Health in more than a decade. 

Dr. Echols has also been at the forefront of the city's response to COVID-19, signing the city's stay-at-home order and advising Mayor Lyda Krewson. 

But court documents show Dr. Echols is not currently a licensed medical doctor — despite his apparent testimony in a hearing last week.

Arch City Defenders took the City of St. Louis to court trying to stop the removal of a tent encampment in downtown last week. During a hearing with a judge via teleconference, Dr. Echols made a "misstatement" about his qualifications according to a filing by the city counselor on Wednesday.

"He is not currently licensed to practice medicine. Due to his role in public health, he stopped seeing patients some time ago and did not maintain licensure," City Counselor Julian Bush wrote in the filing. 

The city charter says the director of health must be a licensed physician, but the city's Director of Communication Jacob Long said that language applied when the position still oversaw city hospitals that have long since closed.

The charter also says graduate work in public health is a sufficient qualification. 

Article XIII, Section 14-C, 12.51 reads in part:

"The director of health and hospitals shall be a regularly licensed practitioner of medicine and surgery and a graduate of a recognized school of medicine or shall have completed graduate work in a recognized school of public health to the level of a Master's Degree in Public Health or have been certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. The director also shall have had at least three years' experience in the practice of medicine and at least three years' experience in public health work, with at least two years of such experience in a responsible administrative capacity."

Long said Echols meets the qualifications to serve in his current capacity. According to the city's website, Dr. Echols "holds a bachelor’s degree in biology/pre-med from Clark Atlanta University and a medical degree from the Boston University School of Medicine. He is a current member of the American Public Health Association, Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the American Sexual Health Association and several other professional organizations and national work groups."

"We are extremely fortunate, given his medical and professional background managing communicable diseases, to have Dr. Echols at the helm of the department during the current COVID-19 pandemic," said Long.

The city is facing a lawsuit from two businesses over its stay-at-home orders issued by Dr. Echols. 

Thursday, Cherri Elder the owner of one of those business, Elder Antiques, called for Dr. Echols to resign saying in a statement, "Why should thousands of City of St. Louis business owners follow his health related directive to 'cease all activities' because of the coronavirus if he can’t even write a prescription in our state?"

Below is the city counselor's memo filed in federal court, correcting Dr. Echols' testimony.

Below is the news release from Cherri Elder calling for Dr. Echols' resignation.

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