COLUMBIA, SC — A state nurse with a key role in an infectious disease investigation helped start a private consulting company that some ex-workers blame for slowing down the tuberculosis probe in rural Greenwood County northwest of Columbia.
Tammy McKenna, the state health department’s nurse consultant for the tuberculosis control division, is one of two managers of S&T TB Consulting LLC, a company formed May 17 by McKenna and another official at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, according to court records and incorporation documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
McKenna’s fellow consulting company organizer, veteran state tuberculosis control director Shea Rabley, is listed as the other manager of the firm. Rabley no longer works at DHEC, the Associated Press reported.
Rabley and DHEC are the targets of lawsuits claiming that they failed to move quickly enough on the investigation of tuberculosis in a Ninety Six school, where more than 50 young children later were found to have the tuberculosis germ. Ten of the children tested have developed tuberculosis, preliminary data show.
The agency learned that a school worker had the disease in early March, but didn’t test schoolchildren until May 31. It also did not order that the infectious employee be confined in a secure facility until June 6.
Upstate lawyer John Reckenbeil said the formation of S&T TB Consulting LLC contributed to the delay in testing children at Ninety Six Primary School. The formation of S&T either caused DHEC workers to intentionally slow down the investigation at Ninety Six or become so distracted they didn’t move quickly enough, he said.
“That was set up while they were employees at DHEC,’’ Reckenbeil said of Rabley and McKenna’s company. “It was a distraction and something they should have realized.’’
Reached at her office this week, McKenna declined to answer questions. DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden said the agency would not comment. An attempt to reach Rabley was unsuccessful.
So far, it isn’t clear why the consulting company was formed or what its purpose was. State incorporation records indicate the company is a for-profit business. Reckenbeil said it appears to present a conflict of interest.
The lawsuits, filed by Reckenbeil for three fired DHEC nurses, said a second person helped form S&T TB Consulting, but the suits have not named that person. McKenna and Rabley are listed as organizers and managers of S&T TB Consulting, according to state articles of organization.
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that is spread through the air by coughing or breathing. Treatment usually cures the disease, but it can be fatal if not treated.
S&T TB Consulting, whose address is listed in Irmo, is expected to be discussed at a news conference today in Columbia on behalf of fired DHEC nurses Anne Ashley, Malinda Martin and Latrinia Richard. Reckenbeil is expected to call on Gov. Nikki Haley to put the fired workers back on the job.
DHEC director Catherine Templeton fired them because of the way the disease investigation was handled, but the ex-workers say they tried to persuade upper level managers in agency headquarters to move more quickly to test schoolchildren for the disease.
Reckenbeil said his clients enjoyed sterling careers at DHEC before the firings, but records also show that McKenna and Rabley had solid reputations through the years. Rabley has been active in the National Tuberculosis Controllers’ Association and was described Wednesday by one former agency worker as a quality employee.
McKenna has worked as a nurse at DHEC since the early 1980s. She was recognized last year by the National Tuberculosis Controllers’ Association, a group made up of state health agency TB officials. In winning the group’s nursing award, the association called McKenna “an asset to the TB program.”
One of McKenna’s duties in this year’s TB investigation has been as the point of contact for the man suspected of spreading the disease to children and others in Ninety Six.