Health care workers’ union calls for CT health official’s removal

A health care worker’s union has called for the removal of Barbara Cass, a section chief overseeing health care quality and safety at the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

The petition to remove Cass, a longtime nurse working for DPH, drew pushback from the governor’s office Thursday evening.

The petition drive organized by the union, SEIU 1199 New England, claims Cass “failed miserably” in her job as section chief of the agency’s healthcare quality and safety division, and alleges she “regularly ignored worker demands” for protective equipment during the crisis.

That characterization drew a rebuke from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office Thursday.

“Barbara Cass and the team at DPH have been working tirelessly to address issues of quality and safety in our nursing facilities,” said Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, in an email. “Barbara Cass is a dedicated nurse and public servant who has unquestionably helped to save lives throughout this public health pandemic.”

Chief among the issues raised by the union was a comment made by Cass at an April 24 news conference in which she said that nursing home workers were wearing protective gowns fashioned from trash bags at the “preference of the employee, not the preference of the employer.”

She was referring to two complaints filed with DPH and the response she said inspectors were given when they asked employees why they were wearing trash bags instead of the proper protective gear.

The petition circulated by the union characterized that statement and Cass’s actions as “evidence of systemic racism.”

On Thursday, members of the union led a demonstration to deliver the petition calling for her removal at the department’s headquarters on Capitol Avenue in Hartford.

Mounds said Cass has worked with both labor and the nursing home operators on distributing supplies of protective equipment and has inspected numerous facilities.

“Barbara Cass was instrumental in the development of the nationally recognized COVID recovery center program and Connecticut is fortunate to have her help in guiding the state’s decision-making during this public health crisis,” he said.