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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mental health services chief apologizes for interview incident, says he’s available

Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, head of the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration

By The Star Staff

The head of the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA), Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, apologized Wednesday after an incident that occurred in the middle of a television news interview.

“The mental health of all Puerto Ricans is certainly my priority and I have demonstrated this with my actions since we arrived at the ASSMCA,” Rodríguez Mateo said in a written statement. “In the past few hours, an interview that was conducted with me has been released. To this end, I would like to clarify several issues. My record as a physician, public official, and agency head has always been one of transparency, respect and openness.”

“Given the circumstances, it is important to establish that the journalist was offered the data that was available at the time and was also given an interview with personnel who had extensive knowledge of the subject,” the official continued in the statement. “I want to apologize if in any way my words offended the work carried out by the press and, specifically, the [Telemundo] journalist, Valeria Collazo. We are happy to clarify any questions or information you may have. Always with the greatest respect.”

Earlier in the day, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, when asked about the fallout from the Rodríguez Mateo interview, asked for the bullcrap (“tiraera”) in the media and social networks to end.

“There are times here that you fall into a trap that is too much,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “That’s too much. Making allegations like this is more than just muddying.”

Pierluisi noted that if anyone has evidence of illegal conduct by an official, they should go to the investigative agencies and file a complaint.

“My call to everyone in Puerto Rico is to respect each other,” he added. “Let there be a climate of respect and fair treatment among everyone here.”

The governor made his remarks in reaction to the ASSMCA administrator’s interview with the journalist and the statements of Sen. Thomas Rivera Schatz on the matter.

Meanwhile, a pair of Popular Democratic Party lawmakers, Jesús Manuel Ortiz and Héctor Ferrer Santiago, also weighed in on the matter on Wednesday, expressing their concern and calling on the governor to take measures regarding Rodríguez Mateo’s conduct.

The at-large legislators referred to the TV interview as a worrying incident in which Rodríguez Mateo, a former mayor of Salinas and New Progressive Party senator who lost a bid for reelection to an at-large seat in 2020, displayed what they considered to be a highly inappropriate attitude during the interview.

The ASSMCA chief, the lawmakers said, looked “agitated and angry” when questioned about his refusal to give an interview related to statements made by mental health patients.

Additionally, he was questioned about allegations that he was pressuring female employees to sell tickets for $500 to finance his political campaign.

“This conduct is unacceptable and casts serious doubts on his ability to lead an agency dedicated to mental health in Puerto Rico,” Ortiz González said. “Therefore, it is worthwhile for the governor to express himself and take action in this regard. That type of attitude reveals little interest in and respect for public service.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, PDP Reps. Sol Higgins Cuadrado, Estrella Martínez Soto, Deborah Soto Arroyo and Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón upped the ante, calling for Rodríguez Mateo’s immediate dismissal.

The lawmakers said the recent events made it clear that Rodríguez Mateo is not fit to lead an agency that is responsible for caring for people with mental health conditions.

“His unacceptable and hostile behavior toward journalist Valeria Collazo, which occurred yesterday, demonstrates a lack of empathy and professionalism that cannot be tolerated in a position of such importance,” they said.

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