The New York State Department of Health is facing an internal crisis with mass resignations and, according to officials, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is largely to blame. At least nine top state health officials have left the department, resigned or retired in recent months.
A New York Times (NYT) report revealed that at least nine Department of Health officials resigned after “being marginalized and treated irresponsibly” by Governor Cuomo.
“The New York State Department of Health’s deputy commissioner of public health resigned in late summer. Shortly thereafter, the director of its office of communicable disease control also resigned. So did the medical director of epidemiology. Last month, the state epidemiologist said he would also leave,” the NYT notes.
The dissent and resignations began when Cuomo refused to use the agency’s long-standing vaccination plans, developed over the past four years in coordination with local health departments.
Added to this, in recent weeks Cuomo claimed he had no choice but to seize greater control over pandemic policy from state and local public health officials, who, he said, did not understand how to carry out a major process in the real world.
“When I say “experts” in quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust experts,” Cuomo said at a press conference Friday, referring to scientific expertise at all levels of government during the pandemic.
His comments reflected a rift between the state’s top elected official and its career health experts.
According to the NYT, in Albany, tensions worsened in recent months. State health officials said they often learned about major pandemic policy changes only after Cuomo announced them at news conferences.
Cuomo and Health Department under scrutiny
Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic remains in the public eye after state Attorney General Letitia James accused the governor of understating the COVID-19 death count of nursing home residents by not publicly disclosing those residents’ deaths that occurred in hospitals.
Last week, the New York Department of Health was forced to retract the number of elderly deaths in the state’s nursing homes because it had offered a figure that was much lower than the actual number.
Dr. Howard Zucker released figures that put the count of confirmed and suspected deaths in both nursing homes and hospitals at 12,743 as of Jan. 19th only slightly less than the 13,000 claimed in the prosecutor’s report.
Prior to Zucker’s reluctant announcement, the official count of nursing home deaths by COVID-19 included only residents who actually died there and not those who died in a hospital. Last Thursday the Health Department’s website estimated that figure at 8,740 citing data from the previous day.