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Former Public Health Commissioner Accuses Lamont Of Discrimination

Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public Radio
Former Connecticut Department of Public Health Commissioner Renée Coleman-Mitchell speaks about preparation for the novel coronavirus alongside U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams (left) and Gov. Ned Lamont (right), Mon., March 2, 2020."

The former commissioner of the state Department of Public Health is firing back over her May termination ahead of an impending report this month on Connecticut’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two months after Gov. Ned Lamont announced her dismissal, Renée Coleman-Mitchell said in a written statement released late Monday night by the law office of Eric R. Brown that she was going to “set the record straight in my own words.” 

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“Over the last two months I have been able to acknowledge the insidious characteristics of discriminatory bias. They are unwarranted cruelty of oppression perpetuated by intentional efforts to humiliate, erase, discredit, and defame,” Coleman-Mitchell wrote. “This historical practice of discrediting and erasing the noble contributions of Black leaders like myself is not acceptable and must end now.”

Connecticut Public Radio reached out to the governor’s office Monday night. A spokesperson declined to comment.

The former commissioner said she was prompted to speak out now before the firm Mathematica Policy Research releases a preliminary report on how the state handled the pandemic within Connecticut’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where a majority of the state’s 4,444 COVID-19 deaths have taken place.

The firm was hired under a $450,000 contract and will also release a final report in September.

Coleman-Mitchell said the firm has not contacted her for an interview, and she has “little confidence” that it will.

“I feel I may be implicated as the culprit behind the state’s failure,” she said.

Coleman-Mitchell claims that Lamont diminished her role and responsibilities as commissioner early on in the pandemic in favor of Josh Geballe, chief operating officer, who spoke on behalf of DPH at daily briefings with the governor through June.

“As was reported by the media at the time this young, white, male COO was the pseudo-commissioner, running a shadow department, usurping my responsibilities, authority, and taking key staff to nullify my presence, voice, and vigor in serving the most vulnerable sectors of the Connecticut population,” she said.

When cases of COVID-19 began to grow in Connecticut in early March, Coleman-Mitchell said she advised Lamont and other officials of the potential threats to older nursing home and assisted living residents, but after clashing over strategies and plans, she was ultimately cut out of decisions.  

In a May 12 announcement, Lamont thanked Coleman-Mitchell for her service and named her temporary replacement. He later told reporters at a news conference that her firing was not related to job performance, but that he wanted the department to go in a different direction under new leadership.

Lamont named state Department of Social Services Commissioner Deidre Gifford as acting DPH commissioner.

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