De Blasio names Deputy Mayor to manage homeless crisis as Cuomo gets involved

By Bill Parry

Just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to clear homeless people from the streets as temperatures plummeted and interject himself further into city politics, Mayor de Blasio has countered with a key City Hall appointment. Herminia Palacio was named deputy mayor for Health and Human Services Tuesday after a four-month national search to replace Lilliam Barrios Paoli, who stepped down last fall.

Palacio is a crisis management expert who garnered national acclaim coordinating health services for 27,000 people from the New Orleans area who sought shelter in Houston during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her work during Katrina earned Palacio the Excellence in Health Administration Award by the American Public Health Association in 2007.

With 25 years of experience in a range of health and social services professions, the Bronx-born Palacio will be tasked with addressing homelessness across the five boroughs, developing a citywide network for mental health support, coordinating the city’s public health care system, improving access to social services for all New Yorkers, and ensuring agencies that oversee the city’s most vulnerable populations, such as children and victims of domestic violence, are run compassionately and efficiently.

“Herminia is a born and bred New Yorker and a tried-and-true leader,” de Blasio said. “And when her hometown of New York City called on her to bring New Yorkers off the streets and into permanent housing, secure a bright future for our kids in foster care, and help us weave together fragmented mental health care providers into a comprehensive network, Herminia was ready to answer the call.”

In addition to running the mega-shelter operation in the Astrodome for over 27,000 Katrina evacuees, de Blasio said she also stood on the “front lines” of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco from 1998 to 2001. Her innovative approach to public health programming as a senior policy adviser for the San Francisco Department of Public Health was lauded across the country and archived in a national museum of science.

“New York City has my heart. It is my home,” Palacio said. “The opportunity to serve the people of New York City as a deputy mayor is a tremendous honor, particularly with this administration, which has built on a foundation of equity and social justice that speaks the values that have motivated my work my entire life. It is a responsibility and privilege I cherish, and I want to thank Mayor de Blasio for this incredible opportunity.”

Palacio will oversee eight agencies including the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and NYC Health + Hospitals. She begins Jan. 25 and will earn $227,737 per year.

The Palacio appointment may counter Cuomo’s plunge into the city’s homeless crisis, with nearly 58,000 people in shelters each night. Between 3,000 and 4,000 prefer to stay on the streets because of the deplorable conditions detailed in City Comptroller Scott Stinger’s scathing report last month.

“If shelters are not up to code, then we are going to be very diligent in our inspection and management of the existing shelter system,” Cuomo said a day after his executive order. “And I’m going to lay out a program in the State of the State,”a speech he will deliver Jan. 13.

The de Blasio administration characterized Cuomo’s executive order as “redundant,” saying systems were in place for this week’s cold snap.

“Cold weather is finally here, but we are prepared to help anyone without shelter and other assistance,” de Blasio said. The mayor cited his new HOME-STAT effort and the Code Blue program in which the city placed 97 people in shelters and hospitals Monday night into Tuesday morning as temperatures plummeted into the teens.

“I don’t see that the governor’s executive order changes anything that we do that we haven’t already been doing,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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