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Faisal Khan, acting St. Louis County health director, to step down

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Dr. Faisal Khan, the director of the Department of Public Health, answers questions

Faisal Khan answers questions posed by council members regarding the St. Louis County mask mandate during a St. Louis County Council meeting on July 27. 

CLAYTON — Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, will step down from his post Sept. 2, officials announced Thursday.

Khan, 48, submitted a resignation letter Thursday to County Executive Sam Page, calling his appointment over the last year “an honor and a privilege.”

The letter did not state a specific reason for the departure. Khan did not respond to a request for comment.

Khan has served as acting health director since February 2021, returning to a department where he had worked from 2010 to 2018, including the last three years as health director.

In a statement Thursday, Page lauded Khan’s leadership of the health department during the COVID-19 pandemic, in spite of “intense criticism” that included “threats against his life.”

The statement alluded to pushback Page and Khan faced last year from opponents of COVID-19 public health measures, at a time when Page and a council majority of his critics were at odds over health orders and pandemic aid spending, and a vocal anti-mask crowd regularly packed County Council meetings.

It culminated with a tense County Council meeting in July 2021 after which Khan, who had failed to get council support for a mask mandate amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, made an obscene gesture at an angry and vocal anti-mask crowd.

Khan, in a letter, acknowledged the gesture but said it came after he was subject to racist harassment by the crowd, blasting Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, for a “dog-whistle” question he said was meant to emphasize Khan’s Pakistani heritage: “Why are you called Dr. Khan? Are you a physician in the United States?”

Khan also said Council Chair Rita Days, D-1st District, did not do enough to intervene and maintain decorum. The letter drew national attention, garnering coverage by The Washington Post, MSNBC, PBS’s “NewsHour” and CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight.”

But claims of physical assault were later undercut by video and security officers’ testimony, and Fitch called for Khan’s firing. A council majority voted 5-2 in December to reject his formal appointment as health director, adding that they were further upset by a leaked email Khan wrote to staff that referred to anti-maskers as “the lunatic fringe.”

Page, who had told the council in September that he had “verbally reprimanded” Khan for giving the middle finger, kept Khan in an “acting” role, and supporters said Khan was put under unfair pressure for trying to protect public health.

“We appreciate the passion and leadership of Dr. Khan and wish him well in his next chapter,” Page said in a statement Thursday.

“Like health directors across the country, he faced intense criticism, including threats against his life, for following science and data in making decisions to keep our community safe from a deadly virus.”

Page spokesman Doug Moore said an interim health director will be named in September shortly before Khan leaves.

Khan, in his resignation letter to Page, said he would spent the next two months working to ensure “continuity of effort and a seamless transition plan for all operations of the Department of Public Health.”

“I thank you for your support and trust and assure you that the amazing team at the Department of Public Health will continue to serve the residents of St. Louis County with selfless commitment and professionalism,” Khan said.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked in public service with selflessly dedicated professionals. The health and wellbeing of the residents of St. Louis County is in safe hands.”

Criticism of Khan had been a flashpoint for political opponents of Page, including Democratic challenger Jane Dueker, and Republican candidate Shamed Dogan, a state representative from Ballwin.

Dogan on Thursday said he would have made one of his first acts to fire Khan.

“Disappointed I won’t get to fire this liar when I’m elected County Exec,” Dogan said on Twitter. “Typical Khan and Page, giving no reason for the ‘resignation’ and acting like everything’s fine.”

Fitch claimed Thursday that his disagreements were with Page and that Khan was caught in the middle “because he serves at the pleasure of the county executive.” Fitch and a council majority had claimed the July mask order was unlawful because Page didn’t get their approval first.

“He may have felt very strongly about masks … but the way they went about it, not following the law, wasn’t on him, it was on Sam Page and the County Counselor’s office,” Fitch said.

Fitch, a former county police chief when Khan previously served at the health department, said he wanted to talk with Khan “one on one and work through that.”

“I wish him well,” Fitch added.

Khan was CEO of the federally funded Samuel Rodgers Health Center in Kansas City between 2018 and 2021, and had previously worked on HIV and AIDS prevention in South Africa, Botswana and China and for public and private health administrations in West Virginia and Massachusetts.

Originally posted at 1:10 p.m. Thursday, June 1. Updated at 5:11 p.m. 

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Reporter covering St. Louis County politics. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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