Plans to retire after failing to get needed degree

Dr. Michael Nesheiwat will continue to lead the Putnam County Health Department this year, but as interim commissioner after failing to meet a state requirement that he earn a master’s degree in public health.

A resolution approved by the county Legislature’s Personnel Committee on Monday (Jan. 30) confirmed County Executive Kevin Byrne’s appointment of Nesheiwat until Dec. 31, when the doctor plans to retire.

MaryEllen Odell, who preceded Byrne as county executive, named Nesheiwat as interim health commissioner in 2016 to succeed Dr. Allen Beals, whom Odell had placed on administrative leave. (Beals settled with the county soon after for $41,750.) In 2019, Odell recommended that the Legislature remove the “interim” from Nesheiwat’s title.

At the time, the Carmel resident gave up his family medicine practice and his job as head of the medical staff at Putnam Hospital Center, which he had held since 1992.

A few months earlier, in November 2018, the state had informed Putnam County that Nesheiwat needed to have a master’s degree in public health to serve as commissioner. So legislators approved his appointment on the condition he pursue one. When his appointment ended in March 2021, county lawmakers approved a 1-year extension, and then another that expired in December 2022.

Paul Eldridge, the county personnel director, told the Personnel Committee that Nesheiwat was not able to complete the master’s degree “due to extraordinary circumstances in the last four years,” such as the pandemic and a measles outbreak.

The state Health Department said Nesheiwat could only remain if he again served as interim commissioner, according to Eldridge. “Dr. Nesheiwat communicated these circumstances, along with his plan to retire by the end of 2023, if approved to continue as commissioner of health,” said Eldridge.

“He’s been an asset throughout the entire pandemic and I’m very glad that he’s agreed to stay on throughout this transition as interim health commissioner,” said Byrne on Monday.

In 2020, questions arose about Nesheiwat holding multiple side jobs, including being employed by a private firm that had been given a contract to provide medical care to inmates at the county jail. Nesheiwat had been appointed as the jail’s medical director by the Legislature, but in 2019 it contracted care to PrimeCare Medical of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which hired Nesheiwat as an employee.

State Judge Victor Grossman cited Putnam County code, which states that an official shall not take any action that “may result in a personal financial benefit,” including for his or her outside employer, clients, business or family. The county charter also stipulates that the health commissioner “shall serve on a full-time basis.”

Nesheiwat responded that his employment with PrimeCare presented “no conflict” with his duties as commissioner. He is also one of the county’s three elected coroners.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.