Posted on January 21, 2021
HARTFORD—House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora on Thursday called on Gov. Lamont to update Connecticut residents on his administration’s efforts to select a permanent commissioner for the state’s Department of Public Health.
“We’ve arrived at a critical point in the state’s overall response to the virus, with a looming decision about the future of the governor’s emergency powers and growing confusion and frustration over the rollout of the vaccine,” Candelora said. “I fear that the shared optimism delivered by news of the vaccine may be fading. While I appreciate a recent discussion and update from the administration, we hear from residents daily who are desperate for clarity on these critical issues. Now would be an appropriate time for the governor to look into the camera and articulate how decisions are being made inside the Department of Public Health, and whether he anticipates making structural changes during what’s shaping up to be a months-long vaccination effort. The agency charged with leading our response to COVID requires a leader solely focused on that mission.”
The Department of Public Health (DPH) has been without a permanent commissioner since early May, when Gov. Lamont removed Renee Coleman-Mitchell. Deidre Gifford, Department of Social Services commissioner, was named acting Public Health commissioner and has been leading both departments for the last eight months. Gov. Lamont previously indicated that his administration was performing a nationwide search to fill the DPH role.
“While I appreciate Commissioner Gifford’s background in public health and the effort she’s put forth so far, the fact of the matter is that she’s leading two massive state agencies at the same time,” Candelora said. “Eight months on and with rising concerns about a delayed vaccine roll out, we have to ask if this arrangement is what’s best for the state and its residents.”
DPH operations have garnered headlines recently with questions over the department’s $250,000 no-bid contract with a Hartford public relations firm to manage COVID-related communications. That news coincided with controversy of over the removal of a staff DPH spokesperson who has since been fired. DPH is currently advertising for a new spokesperson.
“Given the apparent internal turmoil, it’s no wonder that residents don’t fully understand the vaccination rollout—why legislators are fielding questions about why someone in a congregate setting, such as a prison inmate, will receive the vaccine before a teacher or even a heart transplant recipient,” Candelora said. “Taxpayers are now covering the cost of professional public relations firm, so you’d think the communication to residents during this crisis would be clearer.”