ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - Nine top officials with the New York State Department of Health have resigned since last summer, the New York Times reports.
The resignations came as the state faced the COVID-19 pandemic, and came as Governor Cuomo began making key public health decisions connected to the crisis, decisions which left officials feeling “sidelined and treated disrespectfully,” according to the report.
“The departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays,” the newspaper reported.
Cuomo bypassed the state Health Department and local health departments, instead giving the key job of administering and distributing vaccines to large regional hospital chains.
In doing so, Cuomo bypassed vaccination plans which were already prepared - in some cases, for years. Jefferson County legislature chairman Scott Gray said Tuesday that the county’s vaccination plan has been in place and rehearsed for almost 20 years.
“We’ve had a vaccination plan in place for years; so when the game changed at the last minute and all of a sudden there was a hub concept, we were going to be overseen by hospitals, by a hospital in the region, that kind of threw a curveball at us,” Gray said.
According to the New York Times report, state health officials said they often only found out about major shifts in the state’s pandemic policies by watching Cuomo’s press conferences, and they then had to adjust their guidance to match what Cuomo had announced.
Early on in the pandemic, Cuomo made a point of frequently saying he was guided by facts and numbers, as a way of contrasting New York state’s actions from what then-President Trump was doing.
Yet last Friday, Cuomo declared at a press conference “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts, because I don’t. Because I don’t.”
Cuomo has “all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy,” the Times reported.
Cuomo “made it clear that he believed he had no choice but to seize more control over pandemic policy from state and local public health officials, who he said had no understanding of how to conduct a real-world, large-scale operation like vaccinations, " according to the report.
Yet what he did left local officials scratching their heads. Early on, medical personnel at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown had to travel three and a half hours to a hospital in Plattsburgh to get vaccinated.
Gray, the Jefferson County legislature Chairman, said the state’s rollout of the vaccine was problematic enough to prompt the county and others to organize their own vaccination site at Jefferson Community College.
“We think we know our community better than somebody up in Plattsburgh, and we think we can put the partners together better, and we have. Better - and we told the governor’s staff that from day one,” he said.
Asked about the resignations Tuesday, Cuomo said the response to COVID is “highly stressful, highly challenging, highly exhausting, highly fatiguing. It’s not what a lot of people signed up for. It’s not what a lot of people want to do. It’s not what a lot of people can do.”