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Onondaga County: Dr. Morrow's resignation was "premature"

Onondaga County's deputy executive for human services says it was "premature" for the county's health commissioner to resign.

Dr. Cynthia Morrow resigned from her role as the county's top health expert last week over the county executive's plans to reorganize child and maternal health services within county departments.

The county wants to move child and maternal health services into the Department of Child and Family Services -- the same agency that handles child protective services.

But Ann Rooney, a deputy county executive, told the county legislature's health committee Friday morning that Morrow's resignation was unexpected because the plans are not set in stone.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Ann Rooney, deputy county executive, listens to interim health commissioner Michele Mignano.

"We had not said this is our final plan, we were just in those planning stages," she said after the meeting.

Rooney, interim health commissioner Michele Mignano and David Sutkowy, commissioner of Child and Family Services, stressed to the committee that the health department is still in good hands and this is only a minor reorganization.

Rooney likened the plan to a job task just switching offices within a large corporation.

"No one ever said this was broken," Sutkowy said. He apologized for the "chilling effect" the proposal has had.

But Morrow says moving maternal health care into a department that also handles child protective services would jeopardize mothers' trust.

Morrow also spoke to the county legislature Friday. She left her position on Monday and apologized a few times for still referring to the department as "we."

It could also lessen the county's ability to quickly respond to a health emergency, Morrow said.

"This is potentially extremely detrimental," she told reporters later. "I don’t know that, it’s just all of my experience, all of my -- all of the expert opinion coming in, supports that these are founded concerns."

Morrow said she has began talking with the county executive's office about the proposal last year, but that she felt her concerns were not being listened to.

"The biggest flaw in my perspective, is that we haven’t engaged the community. And I have suggested we do that in a number of forums and that is just not a priority," she said.

Any restructuring of the health department would have to be approved by both the county legislature and state health officials. It would come up as part of the 2015 budget talks within the legislature.

The legislature is "nowhere" in terms of a stance on the proposal, said Danny Liedka, the chair of the health committee, because they only very recently learned about the plans.

Under state law, the county has six months to appoint a new commissioner that has a medical degree. The search will have a national scope, the administration said. Mignano, who was deputy commissioner, will run the department in the meantime. She is not a medical doctor.

"I have no concerns at this time," she told the legislature about how the department will function during the transition.