Framingham Obscured Well being Director’s Resignation, Emails Present

FRAMINGHAM, MA – Just after 7 p.m. on December 29, the City of Framingham sent a brief press release to local reporters announcing that Health Director Dr. Sam Wong would take an indefinite medical vacation from work beginning New Year’s Eve.

Hours before that statement, the Framingham Source news site reported that Wong had told colleagues he had resigned. When asked what was right – that Wong resigned or was on vacation – city spokeswoman Kelly McFalls said nothing.

“I just know he’s on vacation,” she wrote in an email to Patch on December 29, a line McFalls would repeat in two separate phone calls that night.

However, new emails uncovered by Patch reveal that McFalls, Wong, and Mayor Yvonne Spicer were working on a December 29 press release stating that Wong had in fact resigned. Now the city says they used the phrase “medical leave” because Wong had not officially filed a resignation – though this contradicts other reports of the departure.

“Sam, we have to issue a notice of your departure. Otherwise the media will put together whatever they want, unless the city tells the story,” McFalls wrote in an email on December 29, just before 5pm Spicer and Wong.

That night after the Source story, the trio was working on a much longer press release citing Wong’s departure as a resignation and quoting quotes from Wong and Spicer. They exchanged several drafts of the publication between 4:41 and 6:48 p.m. on December 29, email shows. This lengthy press release never made it public.

“Dr. Samuel S. Wong, director of the Framingham Health Department, has resigned from his post effective Friday, January 1, 2021, citing health reasons for his departure,” reads a first draft of the press release.

The version the city made public only said, “Dr. Samuel S. Wong, director of the Framingham Health Department, will be on vacation and his last day at the office will be Thursday December 31st.”

“The city didn’t say he was leaving permanently because he hadn’t submitted a resignation at the time,” McFalls said Thursday. “I cannot speculate about what another person thinks. We did not publish the resignation statement at this point because he did not submit a resignation.”

When asked why the original drafts of the press release referred to Wong’s departure as a “resignation”, McFalls said she “had not heard the full story”.

The emails were released to Patch for public records upon request. At first, Framingham withheld the emails quoting Wong’s medical privacy. Patch reached out to the Commonwealth Secretary, who decided that the emails should be made public. Framingham was instructed to hand over the records on March 11, but it took 10 days for them to be released under state law.

Second resignation report

In the days after Wong’s departure, city officials continued to avoid the use of the word “resign.”

On December 30, the MetroWest Daily News reported that Wong had told colleagues he was stepping down due to exhaustion as the pandemic progressed.

“Michael Hugo, a former member of the Framingham Board of Health, said Wong had told him he had resigned and that he had notified Mayor Yvonne Spicer last week,” the newspaper reported on December 30.

This coverage prompted Spicer to publish her own statement on departure.

“I’m sure many of you have read conflicting information about Health Director Dr. Sam Wong’s medical leave,” Spicer said. “The city published one announcement on December 29th that Dr. Wong would be on medical leave starting today. If you read today’s MetroWest Daily News you will see, in his own words, that he is exhausted and needs to take a break. “

However, in a December 29 press release, a quote from Spicer was more directly related to the departure.

“The city is losing a true leader and friend,” says a quote from Spicer in the draft. “I am confident in the team and department he is leaving behind and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Vacation or vacation?

A week later, the city released documents to Patch showing that Wong had not made a formal request for medical leave, but requested nearly two months of accumulated vacation time.

“Dr. Wong told Human Resources that he would be taking leave for medical reasons,” she wrote in an email on Jan. 7 when asked about the vacation time. “He had the time and was committed to it. He didn’t ask about it [Family and Medical Leave Act] although he qualified for it. He asked the city to say that he would be saying goodbye on medical grounds. “

According to McFalls, Wong officially resigned in late February, the last day of the vacation he requested. Wong did not immediately return a request for comment on this story.

Wong was previously Hudson’s Director of Health and was hired by former Framingham City Administrator Robert Halpin in 2017. Spicer had reappointed Wong shortly before he left. He has been recognized as a leader in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic – including calling for state and business executives to find free Stop the Spread test locations in Framingham.

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