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Mayor Barrett reacts to report on Milwaukee Health Department failures

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Mayor Tom Barrett answered questions for the first time about a report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, showing major problems with the city’s lead poisoning program.

That report, released last week, found kids with lead poisoning were not receiving proper care from the city.

Mayor Barrett only took a few questions Monday, at his first public event since this report came out. The Mayor was scheduled to appear at four other events, after the state report came out, but didn’t show up.

Mayor Barrett says the state report, which highlights massive failures within Milwaukee’s Health Department, confirmed what he learned earlier this year, after ordering a review of the health department.

“This is not a situation where we were not aware of what was going on,” Mayor Barrett said. “Obviously once we were aware there was a problem, I acted so quickly it was unbelievable.”

According to the state report, the city violated state statute, closing lead poisoning cases too quickly and failing to provide nursing care and home visits.

The report found the problems date back six years, but Mayor Barrett maintains he became aware of issues in the department in January.

“You put people in positions of authority and you rely on them,” Mayor Barrett said when asked why he didn’t find out about the problems sooner. “But we had monthly, not monthly, but regular, meetings with personnel at health department.”

The Mayor’s office previously told CBS 58 Investigates the Mayor holds “Accountability in Management” meetings with each department.

An open records request shows those meetings happened with the health department anywhere from every three months to every eight months.

CBS 58 Investigates asked Mayor Barrett if there will be more oversight of the health department in the future.

“Um, yes, obviously we’re going to be watching it much more closely,” Mayor Barrett said.  

The state is giving the city until June 30 to come with up a plan to correct the problems.

CBS 58 Investigates also learned the city is contracting with a Milwaukee law firm to investigate “personnel matters and/or complaints regarding the Milwaukee Health Department” and will pay up to $25,000 for those services. City officials tell CBS 58 Investigates all investigations into specific health department employees are ongoing.


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