Medium cardboard boxes take up the surface of a side table in Dr. Raul Pino’s office on Capitol Avenue in Hartford. They’re filled with picture frames, certificates, documents and other items that for the last three years have decorated the room.
Pino is spending his last few days in office as the state commissioner of the Department of Public Health by taking care of loose ends and preparing a smooth transition for the new commissioner appointed by Gov. Ned Lamont last month.
It’s been busy, Pino said, especially at this time in the legislative session.
“It’s rewarding to see that, at the time that you’re concluding your term, there are policies that are going to come into place that we have fought for a long time and that will set Connecticut to be a better place to live, play and work,” he said.
Dressed in jeans and a fleece sweater, Pino took a break from clearing out his office for its next occupant and department commissioner, Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell, who has a history of working in the public health department going back to 1986.
And Pino had some advice for his successor.
“They have to be the best advocate for the health of all Connecticut residents,” he said. “This agency is more than a place where bureaucracy takes place. We can expand, spread out and make a difference.”
Pino leaves office at a busy time for public health in Connecticut. He said initiatives like raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, adding more types of child vaccinations and addressing the quality of drinking water are just some of the things getting more traction this year.
He hopes the department continues to focus on programs and initiatives around preventing and treating chronic illnesses like asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and reducing the rates of teen pregnancy long after he is gone.
He said the way to do that is “by moving and addressing funding issues moving into those directions.”
Former Gov. Dan Malloy elected Pino acting commissioner in December of 2015. He was confirmed as commissioner two months later.
Under Pino’s leadership, the department has worked on improving and expanding health programs and services in several areas, including taking more measures to tackle HIV cases.
But Pino said things like health disparities among racial groups and the cost of health care continue to be areas of public health that need more attention.
He proposed ideas like improving the prescription delivery system to help residents get needed medications faster and creating better public transportation to make it easier for patients to get to their health providers.
“The time will have to come where we as a society have to realize that it is important for all of us, that all of us are healthier, because then we pay,” Pino said.
The outgoing commissioner doesn’t know exactly where he’ll be next. Pino hopes to stay in Connecticut, which has been his home since migrating from Cuba in 1995.
But he also said, “I always have several plans for everything in my life. And that comes from public health. You have to prepare for different eventualities.”
Pino will leave office at the end of the week. Coleman-Mitchell will begin her job as commissioner of the Department of Public Health on April 1.