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Elizabeth Dufort, a former medical director of the Division of Epidemiology who was identified as “employee of State Entity No.2” in one of the transcripts released by the Attorney General’s office, told investigators that the conditions work had become so bad at the Ministry of Health. that some employees had asked the Federation of Public Employees, one of the state’s largest unions, if they had legal recourse over things like unpaid overtime. (They were reportedly told it was “not illegal during a public health emergency.”) The union did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite their expertise and long hours, several former staff said, decisions that should have come from DOH experts – such as where to send personal protective equipment – were often channeled through Cuomo’s inner circle.

For example, the department would conduct daily surveys at nursing homes and other facilities to see what PPE was needed and assemble packages to be sent from the state warehouse. At one point, Larry Schwartz – a longtime Cuomo ally and former secretary to the governor who was, at the time, a C-suite executive at airport provider OTG – had to approve these requests and sometimes postponed question their need, said the former staff member. Schwartz and other former helpers had returned during the pandemic to work on a “volunteer” basis.

This direct approval system was originally intended to bypass bureaucratic delays and manage inventory during the early days of the pandemic, former Cuomo administration officials said. But it evolved to reinforce an image of tightly concentrated power held only by the people Cuomo trusted.

“He was pushing back and saying, ‘How much do you think that’s correct? … Do you think they are trying not to buy it themselves, trying to get us to provide it? “I remember him asking this question a few times, and I was like, ‘Look, Larry, they need it,'” the former member of the Department of Health said. “The warehouse could not distribute the material before having [governor’s office] Approve.”

Two former administration officials have defended the roles played by office staff and Cuomo’s inner circle in the pandemic response, saying they were never meant to replace public health experts, but rather to work as liaison officers, organizers and managers on behalf of the governor. They chatted regularly with state and local health officials when Cuomo was not, they said. Personal protective equipment surveys were done to properly assess supply and demand, so as not to delay deliveries, they said.

In his interview with the attorney general’s office, Dufort described “a toxic work environment” in which staff from the state health department were not allowed to collaborate with their counterparts in the health department and government. mental hygiene in New York City or other local health departments. The governor’s office would also arbitrarily override certain measures, such as areas qualified for various Covid “zones,” which Cuomo used to delineate the level of reopening restrictions in certain areas of the state. And the office had ordered Health Department staff to share incomplete data on hydroxychloroquine with the White House. Both things, Dufort said, raised ethical concerns within the ministry.

“The data was not ready to be shared in a way that would be ethical or appropriate,” she told investigators of the hydroxychloroquine application. But the governor’s office insisted the department share the incomplete data, Dufort said. She said she was prepared to resign rather than hand over the information.

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