Agent Replacement Requires Strategy

A technical glitch that prematurely knocked the April 21 remote-access, public meeting of the Marion Board of Health offline was resolved with a special meeting called for April 27.

            In that subsequent meeting, the board officially closed unfinished business from April 21 and further developed its discussion on a strategy to replace Health Agent Ana Wimmer, who recently resigned.

            “All of us agree that it’s more than a 19-hour position,” said Board of Health member Dr. Ed Hoffer.

            Chairperson Dot Brown proposed hiring a part-time agent for all but septic-related work and contracting a consultant to do the septic work, suggesting that the applicant would pay for the consultant to look at the application. The part-time health agent would still need to help with the paperwork.

            The premise is that going forward, the health-agent position would hold the potential to grow into a full-time job.

            Brown said that Public Health Director/Nurse Lori Desmarais did “a beautiful job establishing a checklist” for such an arrangement, but Town Administrator Jay McGrail said the financial mechanism to execute it would require more information.

            In questioning whether the town can legally set up a 53G account for this purpose (as is commonly done for the sake of hiring peer-review consultants to advise town boards and commissions that adjudicate cases at the applicants’ expense,) McGrail noted that the money would go to general fund. The Board of Health, he said, has a revolving fund with a $70,000 cap earmarked for vaccine.

            Should the town opt to establish another revolving fund, it would require a vote at Town Meeting for approval.

            Meantime, the Board of Health would have to get a proposal from a consultant to verify the adequacy of a proposed fee.

            “George (Heufelder of the Barnstable County Environmental Health Division) has been reviewing Marion’s septic plans,” said Brown. “He is potentially the person who could do it, too.”

            Hoffer anticipates citizen pushback on the proposal, while Brown wondered aloud if the application fee could be applied toward an associated consultant’s fee.

            McGrail suggested advertising for the health-agent job, taking stock of the candidates and then based on that, determine a long-term strategy to shape the role.

            “We can maybe work on this too. Who does the reporting to whom?” asked Board of Health member Dr. John Howard, alluding protocols and procedures. “It’s a good time to deal with those two issues.”

            Howard said that for many years Marion had a part-time health agent and that “things did go well.”

            Hoffer disagreed, pointing to the situation at 464 Front that “stewed and festered” because it was put to the back burner and “not handled properly by our previous part-time person.”

            Howard said he does not want to look back at what went wrong but to the future.

            “I think there’s definitely a case for more than 19 hours. Things change, positions change and needs change,” said McGrail.

            Brown said Marion has not digitally recorded septic information to this point. “It’s an expense that’s there because we haven’t taken the time to do things in a better way and have that information available,” she said, noting that the town does not have a map of all the septic systems.

            Going forward, said Brown, Marion should be recording all work. I/A (denitrification) systems are followed up by Barnstable County, “but we have to make sure we give them all our information. … There’s still a lot of records there that are not updated,” she said.

            “These are reasons why we need additional hours,” said McGrail who said he would post the same part-time job by April 29.

            McGrail and one board member would screen candidates, after which interviews would be conducted.

            Desmarais said that (former health agent) Dave Flaherty is currently assisting the town but does not have time for food inspections.

            In other business, the board revoted and reaffirmed its denial of a variance at 6 Derby Lane, where applicants James and Cathy Tripp were looking to avoid the purchase of denitrification septic system contrary to Marion’s regulation as it applies to any new septic construction in town. The member then voted to close that public hearing.

            The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for Thursday, May 5, at 4:00 pm.

Marion Board of Health

By Mick Colageo

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