HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced Tuesday that had replaced the state’s public health commissioner in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, a change that a state official said was made because of a series of missteps dating to last year.
The official announcement from the Democratic governor did not say why he was replacing Renée Coleman-Mitchell with Deidre Gifford, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, who will also serve as acting public health commissioner.
Lamont removed her for several reasons including being slow to act on a plan to protect nursing homes from the coronavirus and refusing last year to publicly release school-by-school vaccination rates, according to the state official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information.
A phone message seeking comment was left for Coleman-Mitchell on Tuesday.
“I appreciate Commissioner Coleman-Mitchell’s willingness to join my administration and lead one of our most vital state agencies, which is responsible for overseeing so many critical public health needs,” Lamont said in his statement. “Her service over the last year has been a great deal of help, particularly in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic that has brought disruption to many throughout the world.”
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Coleman-Mitchell had worked for the Public Health Department for 18 years, including the past year as commissioner. She previously was a section chief for the agency, managing chronic disease programs.
Lamont had become increasingly frustrated with Coleman-Mitchell, most recently because of the slow implementation of a plan to protect nursing home residents from the coronavirus, the official said.
The plan involved converting some health care facilities into “recovery centers” set aside mostly for nursing home residents who have left the hospital but still might be contagious or lack immunity. Several centers are now open.
As of last week, when the latest data on Connecticut nursing homes was released, coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes — more than 1,600 — represented nearly 60 percent of the deaths statewide.
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Coleman-Mitchell had fallen out of favor also for her handling of a personnel issue with former Deputy Commissioner Susan Roman, the state official said.
Roman, who resigned in March, alleged she was subjected to racial discrimination at the department, including being called the “white deputy commissioner” and the “great white hope,” The Hartford Courant reported. Roman is white and Coleman-Mitchell is black.
In August, Lamont overruled Coleman-Mitchell and ordered the release of school-by-school vaccination rates. The move came a day after Coleman-Mitchell said she only planned to release county-by-county immunization data and no school-by-school rates.
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