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Former Health Department Director Merle Gordon, photo by Rachel Dissell
The City of Cleveland has announced major organizational changes to its health department following an internal investigation into a culture of hostility and discrimination.
The department will now be housed under the Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunities for Adolescents and Young Adults, overseen by Chief Tracy Martin-Thompson. City Environment Commissioner Brian Kimball will serve as interim director.
Former CDPH director Merle Gordon, a former councilor, has been appointed special assistant to the mayor and will assume the title of Executive Manager of Population Health.
"This critical role will help create the structures and systems the city needs to fully integrate a public health approach and strategy into the region's recreation," Gordon said in a prepared statement alongside is included in the city's investigation report. "I continue to serve this community every day and look forward to working with you in this new role as we strive to improve the health of the Cleveland population."
The scene reported an alleged culture of hostility in the workplace that summer, including multiple discrimination complaints filed by epidemiologist Karen Aluma and two other staff who claim the city struggled against them when they heard about treatment in the Department spoke.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission found a "likely cause" last month that the city discriminated against Aluma. The city's internal investigation found "no credible evidence" of discrimination against Aluma, but reassigned Aluma to work with a different manager.
The city will also hold pre-disciplinary hearings for Aluma's manager Katherine Romig and Public Health Commissioner Heather Persis Sosiak.
The town investigation was led by Martin-Thompson, who will now oversee the department, and Martin Flask, a former security director and special assistant to the mayor.
The investigation did not reveal any “willful or unintentional abuse of employees because of a protected class” such as race, age or nationality, but found that employees “of all races and ethnicities were treated unfairly due to a lack of skills in monitoring employees”.
Even so, the city is running additional anti-discrimination and bias training for the entire department, including an "Anti-Racist Toolbox" for regulators.
"The city found that leadership within the CDPH made decisions that were profoundly and seriously detrimental and counter-productive to workforce trust, respect for others, and the trust of employees," the report said.
Stephanie Pike Moore, who spoke about discrimination and has a retaliatory complaint pending with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, said in an email:
The City of Cleveland has had several options to conduct a fair, timely, and appropriate investigation and has failed to hold individuals accountable for a set standard of ethical conduct set out in its own guidelines. They made it clear that the city cannot be trusted to protect its employees, let alone the health of the population it is intended to serve …
I'll admit I'm glad they messed things up a little, but what is disappointing is the lack of accountability. This sends the message that it's okay to subdue employees to the point that employees are leaving en masse, as all you get is one special task and a slap on the wrist.
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