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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter8:41 amMar 19, 20240

Baltimore County’s top health officer was fired for allegedly devoting his workdays to theatrical pursuits

Sources say that Dr. Gregory Branch was the subject of an investigation into his many outside activities. County leaders previously called him an outstanding health professional.

Above: Dr. Gregory Branch and County Executive Johnny Olszewski speak to the media during the Covid pandemic in front of health department offices on York Road. (Baltimore County handout)

The unexplained departure this month of Gregory W. Branch, Baltimore County’s health officer for the last 18 years, appears related to his extensive involvement in outside theatrical productions, including the directorship of a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine choir.

These activities, which had been known by county officials for years but were overlooked, reportedly reached a tipping point when emails and other information underscored the extent of his freelancing during county hours.

“He was doing everything but work,” said a knowlegeable source, who described the March 5 announcement that Branch was “no longer” director of the County Department of Health and Human Services and Baltimore County Health Officer as a firing.

A two-sentence announcement by the Maryland Department of Health gave no reason for his leaving. State and county officials have provided no further information, saying it is a confidential personnel matter.

Speaking briefly with The Brew yesterday, Branch acknowledged that he had “parted ways with the county and state,” but declined to give the circumstances.

He said reports that the alleged excessive time he spent on outside projects was behind his departure “are not actually true,” but also said he was unaware of such reports and would not comment further.

Asked if he had voluntarily stepped down, he said, “At this particular time, I’m still in the process of working with the county and state, so I’d prefer not to talk about exactly what’s going on.”

Asked if investigators had scrutinized his county emails and other material, he said, “I am working through this at this point, so I’d appreciate if you allowed me to do that.”

Asked if he would address his removal publicly in the future, he replied, “If I feel it necessary, yes.”

Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan refused to say if Branch was a focus of employee or public complaints or had been under investigation by her office.

“I cannot comment on the existence of any investigation,” she said.

Unified Voices of Johns Hopkins website featuring its longtime executive director, Gregory Branch. (uvofjhmi.org)

The Unified Voices of Johns Hopkins website features its longtime executive director. (uvofjhmi.org)

Praised during Covid

Branch’s sudden removal represents a stark contrast from the acclaim he received from county leaders during the Covid pandemic and afterwards.

“From the beginning, he has been bravely leading the county’s response to the crisis,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski said, who offered prayers for Branch when he contracted the disease in 2020.

In 2022, Branch earned an award from the Association of Immunization Managers for the county’s Covid vaccine rollout, and won praise when he testified about the harassment he and other public health officials received during the pandemic.

A year ago, the County Council unanimously confirmed his reappointment to another four-year term. Branch brought his 86-year-old mother to the session, winning applause from Council President Julian M. Jones, who said he was his biggest fan outside of his mother.

“Without a doubt, Dr. Branch, you are an utmost consummate professional who has been doing an absolute fantastic job,” the Woodstock Democrat said. Dundalk Republican Todd Crandell continued with the laurels, saying, “You’ve taught me a lot of stuff in casual conversation.”

Branch earned a state salary of $295,736 with a county supplement of $103,628, making him the highest paid county employee, above the salary of School Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough ($310,000), Police Chief Robert McCullough ($275,000) and incoming County Administrator D’Andrea Walker ($263,000).

He did not disclose any future plans yesterday.

Gregory Branch calls for actors for a play he was directing in 2016. BELOW: Advertisement for another play he directed in 2019 at Johns Hopkins' Turner Aditorium. (X)

Gregory Branch calls for actors for a play he was directing in 2016. BELOW: Advertisement for “The Wiz” he staged at Johns Hopkins’ Turner Auditorium. (X)

the wiz, Gregory Branch stage director

No Complaints from “Inside”

A New York City native, Branch received his physician’s license in 1994 after graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and completing a residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It was during his residency that he co-founded Unified Voices of Johns Hopkins, a gospel choir and ministry that rehearses every Tuesday and regularly performs musical events and plays at Turner Auditorium and elsewhere.

The organization was established to “bridge the gap” between the medical school and surrounding community and is currently sponsored by Hopkins’ Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity.

Branch has been the group’s director for the last 32 years and has thrown himself into every aspect of the organization, often doubling as stage manager of its religious-themed plays. He is also active in Battle Stage Plays LLC, which recently featured Ursula Battle’s play, “Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance,” at community and senior centers in Virginia and Maryland.

“He was involved with directing plays and totally neglected his work for the county and state. That’s what’s not being told to the public,” said The Brew’s source.

According to a former county official, Branch’s involvement in theatrical productions – as well as raising money for Project PLASE, a transitional housing program whose board of directors he formerly chaired – was known in government circles ever since he was hired by County Executive James T. Smith Jr. in 2006.

“County Executive Smith was a big fan of his. So was County Executive [Kevin] Kamenetz and, I assume, the current county executive because Branch was there for five years.”

Like Jones and Crandell, the official cited Branch’s leadership during the Covid pandemic as evidence of his administrative prowess. He said Branch also worked collaboratively with county detention officials helping to treat drug problems among young people.

“I never had a complaint from a staff member. The things we always heard about him, doing these drama productions, always came from the outside. Nothing ever from inside.”

To reach a reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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