POLITICO New York: Advocates surprised by departure of deputy mayor for health

Politico

Advocates surprised by departure of deputy mayor for health

Laura Nahmias | August 31, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for health and human services, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, will leave the administration at the end of September to chair the board of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, the mayor’s office said in a statement late Monday.

Barrios-Paoli’s decision to step down from the post she had held for 20 months comes amid criticism of the administration for its handling of the city’s homelessness problem, though she and the mayor both issued statments lauding their work together.

De Blasio said he was “extremely grateful” for her service, and Barrios-Paoli said she was “honored” to have served in the administration.

A spokesman for the mayor did not respond to calls for comment.

The announcement shocked homelessness advocates when it was announced late on Monday night.

“She seemed to really give a damn,” said Jennifer Flynn, the executive director of VOCAL-NY. “I hope her replacement does too. She is very close to the last employee I wanted to see leave. I don’t have any insight about it — just sadness and fear about the growing homeless disaster.”

A former nun who was already in her late 60s when she was tapped by de Blasio for the position of deputy mayor, Barrios-Paoli had served in high-ranking positions under several of de Blasio’s predecessors.

She was commissioner for the Department of the Aging under former mayor Michael Bloomberg and commissioner of the Human Resources Administration under former mayor Rudy Giuliani. She is one of the highest-ranking officials in the de Blasio administration to leave her position, and the first deputy mayor to do so.

Barrios-Paoli was earning a salary of $212,614 a year in her post as deputy mayor in her first year.

Her new post as chair of the board of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation is unpaid.

Barrios-Paoli oversees multiple city agencies in her portfolio, including the Department of Homeless Services, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Administration for Child Services, Human Resources administration, Health and Hospitals Corporation, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Department for the Aging.

One month into her tenure, the New York Times wrote the she was expected to “play a key role in addressing the issues of inequality and social welfare” that drove de Blasio’s agenda.

“For the first time in my life, I’m going to be working for somebody who really, truly embraces the things that I do,” she said of de Blasio in January 2014.

Barrios-Paoli was overseeing the administration’s efforts to curb rising numbers of homeless individuals, a problem that has received intensive coverage from the New York Post in recent weeks. Earlier this month, de Blasio announced a $22 million initiative aimed at putting more caseworkers on the streets to help find severely mentally ill and homeless individuals, and treat them.

The plan drew cautious praise from advocates who hoped the city would do more to provide shelter for the city’s homeless.

Over the weekend, the mayor’s office revealed another pot of funding — $10 million — described as emergency funding aimed at addressing the city’s homeless problems.

An estimated 56,000 people are living in the city’s shelter system, and several thousand more are living on the street, anti-homelessness advocates estimate.

The announcement also surprised some elected officials, including the chair of the City Council Health Committee Corey Johnson.

“It’s a shock,” he said in an interview with POLITICO New York Monday night just after City Hall announced Barrios-Paoli’s impending departure.

“I just found out in the last hour off of Twitter, and I started audibly gasping and swearing … I’m in denial and I’m heartbroken. This fucking sucks,” he said.

He described Ms. Barrios-Paoli as “the most compassionate person I’ve ever worked with in politics” and as “whip smart, has a huge heart, and is incredibly pragmatic in wanting to achieve results.”

Matt Curtis, a policy director for VOCAL NY, said “the administration now has some big shoes to fill.”

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