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Opponents criticize Governor McKee following abrupt resignation of Health Department director

‘Her departure signals a lack of confidence in his leadership and handling of COVID-19,’ Secretary of State Gorbea says

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, speaks at a COVID-19 press conference.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The abrupt resignation of Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott as state Department of Health director drew a sharp response from some of Governor Daniel J. McKee’s expected opponents in the 2022 governor’s race.

Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, a Democrat running for governor, called the loss of Alexander-Scott “really troubling.”

“After recent reports of failed action on the part of Governor Dan McKee, her departure signals a lack of confidence in his leadership and handling of COVID-19,” she said. “Like many Rhode Islanders, I have deeply valued Dr. Alexander-Scott’s leadership during incredibly tough times. Her departure creates a real vacuum in leadership in the biggest public health crisis of our lives.”


Gorbea said there was a noticeable difference in how Alexander-Scott participated in COVID-19 news conferences under McKee than under former Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “Everyone could see that,” she said. “I know that the team at the Department of Health has a real commitment to keeping us all safe and that will continue. But leadership matters, and we are going to miss her.”

Former secretary of state Matt Brown, a Democratic candidate for governor, said, “Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott consistently represented a viewpoint grounded in science and public health in an administration that has recklessly mishandled the pandemic, misled the public, and regularly dismissed the advice of public health experts.”

Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, a member of the Rhode Island COVID-19 Equity Council who is running for governor as a Democrat, called Alexander-Scott’s resignation “a loss for the State of Rhode Island.”

“She has been vocal about strategic disagreements and has time and time again had the courage to draw the line with an administration that clearly was not being proactive about public health response efforts around COVID-19,” Muñoz said. “I don’t know why she chose to resign, but I hope that whoever takes on the role has the same courage that she has demonstrated in ensuring public health and science are at the forefront of all decisions that are made in that position.”


Another Democratic candidate, former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, said Alexander-Scott served as “a beacon of strength and competence” during the pandemic.

“I am sad to see her depart state service – without a doubt, she is irreplaceable,” Foulkes said. “While I have my doubts about this administration’s commitment to facts and public health, I hope they live up to her legacy of putting science and people first.”

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called Alexander-Scott “an incredible leader.”

“Her voice and presence will be profoundly missed, and it is important now, more than ever, for Governor McKee and all Rhode Islanders, to listen to experts like her as we navigate the pandemic and work together to build a healthier state,” he said.

Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, a public health advocate on the Equity Council who is backing Gorbea in the governor’s race, said Alexander-Scott has been a national leader in managing a very difficult pandemic.

“She has been trying to manage the politics in addition to the public health, which is not an easy thing to do,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s the problem we are having in the entire country – a public health emergency is being managed as a political emergency.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.