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No-Bid Contract Yanked for De Blasio Public Housing Health Initiative

By Murray Weiss | November 23, 2015 7:51am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio gave an upadate on the Legionairres' outbreak in the South Bronx. Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Basset is to his right and Council SPeaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is on his left.
Mayor Bill de Blasio gave an upadate on the Legionairres' outbreak in the South Bronx. Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Basset is to his right and Council SPeaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is on his left.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

MANHATTAN — A $4.2 million no-bid city contract that was supposed to realize Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first major health initiative was yanked from a Manhattan nonprofit whose director has been fired, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The mayor’s personal push to establish community health managers in city housing projects came to an abrupt end last month — just a year after the Health Department handed a three-year contract to Mario Drummonds, the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership in Harlem.

The "Community Health Worker" program was based on an initiative de Blasio first witnessed as a 26-year-old volunteering in Nicaragua in 1988.

“The mayor was inspired by the program in Nicaragua and wanted to implement it in New York,” according to a source familiar with it. “This was a very high priority and very dear to him.”

To implement the "Community Health Worker" program, Drummonds was required to hire 14 community workers who would be placed in five housing projects to bridge the gap between the medical providers and the neediest New Yorkers. It included recruiting and helping at least 1,200 residents.

But his handling of the contract unraveled.

In addition to concerns about meeting targets on the number of residents who were getting assistance, sources said Drummonds ran the nonprofit as his personal fiefdom that he ruled with an iron fist.

His abrasive style even provoked one staffer to file a police report against him for threatening her with physical harm.

Contractors hired to work on the project raised their concerns with Drummonds, but they fell on deaf ears. The contractors then wrote a letter to Health Department officials complaining that Drummonds and his top aides were often erratic, abusive and appeared to be living “high off the hog,” sources said.

In response, the Health Department warned Drummonds in July that he risked losing the contract if problems persisted, sources said.

But within a month a new round of allegations surfaced. This time they involved a female staffer who filed a police report alleging that Drummonds had threatened to “cut, f--k and destroy you” if she tried to undermine him.

“I always win,” he said and laughed, according to the police report and sources.

Word of these allegations eventually reached Health Commissioner Mary Bassett who, sources say, scolded her underlings for not addressing the issues sooner and ordered city lawyers to find a way to terminate the three-year contract with Drummonds.

The city "exercised its right last month to terminate without cause" the contract with the Partnership, a Health Department spokesman said in a statement, without elaborating.

Within a few weeks, Drummonds was axed by the nonprofit's Board of Directors, sources say.

The city has now handed the contract to another nonprofit, the Fund for Public Health, where Bassett is president and chair of the board of directors and which is controlled by the city's Health Department, the spokesman said.

Reached by phone, Drummonds said only that the demise of the contract and his departure from the Partnership were not related.

"Have a nice day," he said, before hanging up without commenting further.

Drummonds' successor at the Partnership declined comment and calls to its board of directors were not returned.

Officials at the Fund for Public Health referred calls to the city's Health Department.

In May 2014, de Blasio and Bassett announced their first major health push by creating a "Center for Health Equality" — hoping to fulfill one of his key campaign themes about New York being a "Tale of Two Cities."

The centerpiece, they said, was the "Community Health Worker" program.

“This mission guides all of or work,” Bassett said at the announcement.

The Health Department soon chose the Martin Luther King, Taft, Clinton, Lehman and Johnson houses in Harlem for the pilot program because the area had the city’s highest incidence of asthma, diabetes and hypertension.

“But it started to take forever to get the ball officially rolling, and it seemed the mayor and City Hall were putting pressure on them,” a source close to the program told “On the Inside.” 

“That is why they went to a nonprofit like Drummonds',” who told associates that he knew Bassett before she became Health Commissioner.

The Health Department spokesman said that Drummonds' Partnership was initially selected because, “they had demonstrated experience in recruiting and training Community Health workers and providing health and family support services in East Harlem.”

Created in 1990, the Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership was a nearly $10 million-a-year nonprofit that helped troubled young women and mothers. It received funds from an array of federal, state and city social service agencies.

Drummonds ran it for the last 16 years, and was credited with much of its expansion.

Last April, DNAinfo New York revealed that Drummonds tried to hush-up his hiring of career criminal Daniel Rodriguez — without conducting a background check — who preyed upon the women he was hired to help, impregnating one and nearly costing another her children to foster care.

When the women came forward about Rodriguez, Drummonds told them to keep quiet and let Rodriguez go without alerting outside authorities.

That decision helped Rodriguez move on to victimize other women here and in at least three more states - Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maryland. Rodriguez was also helped by the fact that nonprofits operate with little, if any, government oversight, even from the agencies who fund them.

Rodriguez's present whereabouts are unknown.