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Schoharie elected officials drive out county's health director

Jan 08, 2023 1:00 am
Rachel Silberstein reportx for the Times Union that Schoharie County officials have ousted that county's top public health official. County health director Amy Gildemeister joins other public health leaders nationwide who have either resigned or been forced out in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, 29 of the state's 57 county health officials have retired or left their jobs since 2020, according to data collected by public health advocates. Her dismissal sparked outrage among residents and the county Democratic Committee, which claimed Gildemeister was "the target of anti-vaccination and anti-mask sentiments." Gildemeister was hired in 2014, and in December she was unanimously recommended for a six-year term by the seven-member county Board of Health. But in a reversal, the county Board of Supervisors opted not to renew her $94,700 annual salary the same month. "It is what it is," Gildemeister said last week. "I feel that we have done excellent work. I feel that the work we have done has saved lives." Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Federice alleged the results of an investigation led to the supervisors' decision, but refused to provide specifics, calling it a "personnel" matter. One person said that Gildemeister's style of COVID-19 enforcement was factored into the report, a claim Federice vehemently denies. The members of the County Board of Health said the complaints were never brought to their attention until the December meeting and they have yet to receive a copy of the report. Gildemeister denied any knowledge of write-ups or investigations during her tenure. "Some supervisors indicated quite clearly on public record that they were unhappy with COVID restrictions during the pandemic. So it's not surprising that they would continue to be unhappy." Federice said he is keeping the report from the Board of Health fearing it will be leaked to the press. He said the board was briefed on the report's contents. "They discussed it in detail," Federice said. "They already knew what we were going to say. We gave them names, places, dates." Gildemeister is not the first Schoharie County health director to be forced out over disagreements with the supervisors. In 2010, health director Kathleen Strack resigned before her term was up after clashing with local government officials on a variety of issues. Gildemeister is scheduled to leave on January 21. Dr. Roy Korn, president of the Schoharie County Board of Health, said it will be a challenge to replace her. "She knows public health. She knows the rules quite well. She responded appropriately to what was called for by the state Department of Health and the CDC … her knowledge base will be gone and there is no deputy to take over and continue." Read the full story in the Times Union.