CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson on Tuesday announced a “top-down” shakeup of his Department of Public Health that includes the reassignment of department Director Merle Gordon and “pre-disciplinary” hearings for two other officials.
Jackson also reported in a release that the Health Department is being moved under the Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults and the city is re-opening an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint filed by a department worker.
The move comes at a sensitive time, as the Health Department is leading the city’s efforts to deal with the deadly coronavirus pandemic, but the release states that an investigation found “several areas of concerns indicating negligence which must immediately be addressed.”
The investigation, launched in July, looked at the department’s operating structure and culture, employee morale, hiring and attrition, and the loss of $1.5 million in state aid for HIV/AIDS programming.
The investigation found “several areas of concerns indicating negligence which must immediately be addressed,” a report from the investigation states.
“I have made substantial changes within the Cleveland Department of Public Health to help ensure we are serving the citizens of Cleveland in the most effective manner, Jackson said in a statement. “These changes are not taken lightly but are necessary to ensure an operation that will effectively provide health services to Cleveland and its residents.”
Jackson declined a request for an interview. But he previously told cleveland.com that he was hearing enough complaints from employees that he wanted to study the department.
The investigation involved interviews with employees, a majority of whom said they felt either neutral or negative in their feelings toward their work.
The reorganization of the department is intended to provide a new management structure that will allow employees to better work as a team, according to the report.
“The reorganization is also intended to improve culture, morale and address any employee perceptions or misconceptions that management personnel act based upon any bias,” the report states.
While the report specifically states that no mistreatment based on race, gender or ethnicity was uncovered, the “team found employees of all races and ethnicities were treated unfairly due to the lack of skill in supervising employees.”
Among the changes that take effect immediately:
Gordon is reassigned to a newly created position of executive manager of population health and will answer directly to Tracy Martin-Thompson, chief of the Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults.
Brian Kimball, currently the commissioner of the division of environment, is also now the interim director of CDPH. He will oversee the daily operations of the department.
The department has been moved under the supervision of Martin-Thompson. It had been part of Public Affairs Chief Natoya Walker Minor’s portfolio.
A grant oversight panel will regularly audit grants in the Health Department to be sure they are complying with performance targets and objectives.
A health commissioner and the lead epidemiologist face pre-disciplinary hearings, although the report doesn’t make clear why.
Cleveland will seek proposals for a consultant to examine the department for management and efficiency and then provide recommendations to the city.
The city will reopen an EEO investigation into complaints filed by an employee, Karen Aluma, after determining that an initial investigation was overbroad and misleading in its assumptions.
That EEO investigation did not find credible evidence of discrimination based on Aluma’s national origin or age. But the city did find “leadership within CDPH made decision which were profoundly and severely damaging and counterproductive to workforce trust, respect for others and employee confidence.”
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