Photo Courtesy of Edwin Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
“The decision to transfer what have long been key functions of DOHMH, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives of New York City residents and the apparent justification for them raises questions that must be answered,” Comptroller Stringer wrote.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The City comptroller on Friday sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio demanding answers regarding Hizzoner’s recent decision to transfer critical contact tracing responsibilities from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to the Health and Hospitals system.
“Tasking H+H with leading the City’s ‘Test and Trace Corps’ is both contrary to historical precedent and to the established expertise already housed within DOHMH,” Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote. “Contact tracing is a crucial component of the City’s recovery strategy and I fear that instead of being led by DOHMH, a recognized national leader in public health for which contact tracing has been a core function for over a century, you have tasked H+H with initiating an entirely new program that goes beyond its core mission of providing medical care.
“The decision to transfer what have long been key functions of DOHMH,” Stringer continued,“especially in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives of New York City residents and the apparent justification for them raises questions that must be answered.
In his missive, the comptroller requested that the de Blasio administration respond with an explanation of:
The reason and rationale for the transfer of: the contact tracing function from DOHMH to H+H; the virus testing function from DOHMH to H+H.
Is H+H able to hire contact tracing personnel more quickly and efficiently than the Fund for Public Health, which has been performing the hiring function on behalf of DOHMH? If yes, please explain why.
Will the Fund for Public Health continue to have a role in hiring if the contact tracing function is transferred to H+H according to your plan? If yes, please explain why.
Procurement procedures and regulations at H+H that would allow it to procure necessary equipment and supplies more expeditiously than DOHMH could do under the current suspension of City Charter Chapter 13, per the Mayor’s Emergency Executive Order #100.
“I question whether effecting such a significant change to established health care practices is wise in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Answers to the above questions might justify such a change, and provide confidence to the City that elected officials are taking the necessary actions to ensure public health,” Stringer wrote.
The comptroller’s questions arrived a month after two borough legislators challenged the mayor to fire City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, M.D., for failing “to keep New York City ahead of the [COVID-19] curve.”
“Despite numerous warning signs from around the globe, Commissioner Barbot failed to keep New York City ahead of the curve. Significant research on pandemics and the spread of viruses should have been conducted early, and our city should have led the nation by taking drastic measures before any other city,” Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) fumed in a letter to de Blasio.
City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein characterized the councilmen’s letter as “despicable and reeks of opportunism.”