HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - The governor announced on Tuesday that he is appointing the current commissioner of the Department of Social Services to serve as acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health.
Deidre Gifford will be the acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, effective immediately.
Gov. Ned Lamont thanked Public Health Commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell for her service to the State of Connecticut.
When asked on Tuesday if he thought Coleman Mitchell wasn't doing a good enough job for what the state was facing, Lamont said "No, I think the job has changed. Let me put it that way. In terms of public health long term, I want closer coordination between our different departments starting with social services."
Problems started last summer during a heated debate in Connecticut over vaccinations. Coleman Mitchell refused to release a list of school immunization rates. Two days later, Lamont ordered that list be made public.
Eyewitness News was told Coleman Mitchell was not communicating with other state agencies, which Lamont said is critical during the pandemic.
He said Coleman-Mitchell first joined the Department of Public Health in 1986 and served in several roles until 1994 before she returned to the agency in the spring of 2019 to serve as commissioner.
“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 a press release. “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. I thank her for her advocacy on behalf of the health and safety of our residents, and for being a dedicated partner in service to the State of Connecticut.”
Prior to joining the Department of Social Services, from 2016 to 2019 Gifford served as deputy director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, DC, where she oversaw the full scope of Medicaid functions at the federal agency. From 2012 to 2015, she served as Medicaid Director in the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and from 2005 to 2011 she was co-founder and project director of Rhode Island’s multi-payer Medical Home demonstration, one of the nation’s first and most enduring multi-payer payment reform initiatives.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has required every state agency to even more closely align with each other and sync our operations to deliver a coordinated response for the people of Connecticut. I am determined to continue these efforts for the duration of our emergency response and beyond,” Gifford said.
Coleman Mitchell released a statement on Tuesday saying "It has been an honor to serve the state of Connecticut as Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. When I was appointed by Governor Lamont just over a year ago, I said that I would serve his administration with an unwavering commitment to the public health needs of our communities, I would give honest advice; and I would do so without regard to politics. I believe I have fulfilled that commitment.I was informed by the Governor’s staff that the decision to move the Department of Public Health in a different direction was not related to job performance. I take them at their word. I am proud of the work of the Department of Public Health during this time of unprecedented turmoil and threat to the public health. Our coordinated response to the COVID-19 public health crisis earned praise from public health experts around the country. Our citizens have uniformly praised our efforts to keep communities safe. As we have seen this virus ravage underrepresented and underserved communities, we have been resolute in assuring that those in our most vulnerable communities were protected. I am most proud of my role in promoting and implementing creation of COVID recovery facilities, which will help make our retirement and elderly community populations safer and less susceptible to the indiscriminate suffering that the virus causes. Indeed, our plan was praised by David Grabowski, a professor of public health care policy at Harvard Medical School who told NBC News in an interview this week that it is “really the safest approach.” I thank Governor Lamont for the opportunity to serve his administration I look forward to greater opportunities to come.”