I-TEAM investigation prompts internal review of Cleveland’s health department by mayor

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — A FOX 8 I-TEAM investigation now has Cleveland’s mayor looking into what’s not getting done by the city health department during the coronavirus pandemic.

We revealed this week that the health department is short-staffed with positions that have been unfilled for months and even years.

Meantime, we also found the department is writing very few citations for violating city health orders despite thousands of complaints.

During a news conference Thursday, the I-TEAM asked Mayor Frank Jackson why the health department has so many unfilled positions in the middle of a health crisis?

“That is a question we’re looking at. As a matter of fact, I got a report just yesterday on the number of vacancies,” said Jackson.

The mayor got that internal report on unfilled jobs at the health department the day after the I-TEAM exposed the openings. Yet records show one position has been open for three years and another for two years. Others have been unfilled for months, some for weeks.

The mayor says the city has hired people to track the spread of COVID-19, but we also found openings for specialists who deal with disease outbreaks.

He says he’s more concerned about what’s not getting done by the health department outside of the pandemic.

“About whether or not food inspections are being conducted or restaurants or grocery stores. Those kinds of things,” he said.

We’ve also investigated what’s happening with complaints about people not wearing a mask or businesses not following health orders.

Records show the city has taken more than 2,800 complaints. Yet, Safety Director Karrie Howard said the health department has issued only six citations.

Why? In fact, the city recently passed new laws with fines.

“The majority of the complaints that you’ve mentioned come from private citizens about other private citizens,” Howard said.

“We’re not going to be chasing people who are not wearing masks,” said Jackson.

The mayor and safety director say the city’s health department, so far, has been going only with police to places such as nightclubs where there might be big crowds. The department is not going after family gatherings or private parties.

They say they first want to make sure bars and restaurants are following health orders.

So if you call in a complaint, don’t necessarily expect immediate action.

At the same time, its not clear when you can expect the open health department positions to get filled.

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