Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly confirms Joe Gerace as city Health Department director

The Anchorage Assembly has voted to confirm Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointed Health Department director, Joe Gerace.

The 7-3 vote came after the Assembly spent several hours in executive session, discussing accusations that had been made against him related to his behavior in the workplace, including allegations of sexism toward female employees and safety concerns. The Bronson administration has called the accusations false and an attempt at character assassination.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and members Austin Quinn-Davidson and Felix Rivera voted against Gerace’s confirmation. Assembly member Meg Zaletel was not in attendance and so did not vote.

The Assembly at a meeting on Tuesday delayed a confirmation vote because of the newly surfaced accusations.

The Daily News obtained several of the emails that outlined accusations against Gerace. Some were written by people who worked with him at Visit Healthcare, one was from a person who volunteered during his time at Red Cross and one is from an anonymous person who said they currently worked at the city Health Department.

In an email Friday, Gerace denied many of the allegations against him, and said he did not have enough information to respond to some others.

After the several hours in executive session — during which two women who made claims against Gerace spoke to the Assembly in person — Assembly members voted in Gerace’s favor. Before voting, several members, including Kameron Perez-Verdia, said they believe he is qualified to do the job of Health Department director.

“The information that we were given was important, and I’ve heard it,” Perez-Verdia said. “But at the end of the day, I feel like that Mr. Gerace is qualified for this job and should be confirmed.”

Member Jamie Allard urged other Assembly members to confirm Gerace, put the matter behind them and move the city forward.

“Today we did a fact-finding mission. And through this process, I found that the there was no actual, real documentation. And I really support Joe,” Allard said. “He has proven through these testimonies, he’s the person for the position.”

Three Assembly members voted against Gerace’s confirmation.

“To receive more than 10 individuals making very serious claims — I can’t in good conscience move forward,” Quinn-Davidson said before voting no.

She said she believes it is her duty to take the accusations seriously, which she said came from women and men, spanned three different workplaces and spoke to Gerace’s leadership ability and his ability to do the job.

“I will be voting no, but I want you to know, this process is hard. And I see many good qualities in you as well,” she said to Gerace.

Rivera said that members had received testimony and emails both for and against Gerace’s confirmation, and said that he thinks there is truth to both sides.

“There are two criteria: There is qualifications — and I tend to agree with my colleagues that have spoken on this matter that you are qualified for this. But there’s also the ‘do no harm’ aspect, and that is where I am carefully weighing how I will be voting,” Rivera said before voting against Gerace’s confirmation.

Some of the emails with allegations against Gerace accused him of retaliatory behavior toward employees, sexism, lack of professionalism and decorum and creating a demoralizing work environment.

“I challenge you to, if confirmed, to find a way to develop a relationship with your team,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said to Gerace, before voting in favor of his confirmation.

Bronson appointed Gerace as director of the Anchorage Health Department in September. Gerace has worked as a firefighter, paramedic and Red Cross disaster responder, according to the mayor’s office. He recently worked as director of operations for Visit Healthcare, the city’s contractor for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

Gerace oversees a staff of about 130 at the health department and a $14.7 million budget. The department is responsible for the city’s COVID-19 response, and plays a major role in the city’s homelessness efforts, including overseeing its mass care operations and the shelter at Sullivan Arena.

The mayor’s office on Friday shared multiple emails with the Daily News written in support of Gerace’s confirmation.

In the emails written in opposition to Gerace’s confirmation, one person alleged that while at Visit Healthcare, when medical staff raised safety concerns, those staff members were then fired. The fired staff members had alerted Gerace to concerns including giving out vaccines that were expired and giving vaccines that were not dosed properly, according to the email.

“No one was fired for reporting safety violations or concerns,” Gerace said. He also said that one nurse gave a dose of an expired vaccine and that she was fired after a lengthy investigation.

Another person who brought accusations against Gerace said that he promoted a nurse who was found to be unsafe to reconstitute and give vaccines, and that the nurse had been found falling asleep while reconstituting vaccines and could not properly draw up doses.

Gerace said the situation never occurred, and if it had, the “nurse would not be employed.”

Emma Jacobson, a nurse who worked with Gerace at Visit Healthcare, said his leadership led to a bad working environment, with multiple OSHA violations and reports, numerous human resources complaints for ageism, sexism and racism, and an investigation by the Department of Public Health.

Jacobson testified to the Assembly in person during the executive session.

Gerace said that Visit Healthcare, not himself, was the subject of an investigation by the Department of Public Health.

“No, this is not true for OSHA or HR complaints or an investigation by the Department of Public Health,” Gerace said. “Visit Health was the subject not myself. All of these were unfounded. There was no written direction as a result.”

Jennifer Wallace, a nurse who who wrote one of the emails against his confirmation, said she worked at Visit Healthcare with Gerace and spoke to Assembly members during the executive session.

“I just expressed my grave concern with his ability to lead people. I expressed my concern over his misogyny and the way he treats women significantly differently than men,” Wallace said.

After the Assembly’s vote, Wallace stood in the lobby of City Hall with tears in her eyes and said that she is surprised the Assembly confirmed Gerace.

“I’m surprised that so many people, both men and women spanning multiple workplaces brought up multiple concerns and that there were still so many yeses,” Wallace said.

“... I’m angry. But at least I know that we tried and did the best we could,” Wallace said.

Gerace is the mayor’s second appointee to the health department director position. The mayor’s previous pick for Health Department director, David Morgan, resigned just before his confirmation vote in August after facing intense scrutiny from the Assembly over his qualifications and comments about the pandemic.

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