Health Director Karen Walega to Retire

            The impending dissolution of the Marion-Rochester Health District, unfortunately, coincides with the announcement that Regional Health Director Karen Walega is retiring next week.

            Dr. Ed Hoffer, a member of the Marion Board of Health, thanked Walega for her 30-plus years serving the district and on behalf of the district, he wished her the best of luck in her new direction. 

            In the immediate, Marion is looking for a part-time health agent for FY21.

            That matter was taken up in the 3:00 pm Marion Board of Health meeting held only an hour after the district meeting had ended.

            Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail followed that district meeting with the announcement that, for the remainder of the life of the district and in FY21, the towns of Marion and Rochester will go in different directions.

            The resulting part-time job posting for a new health agent for Marion will be somewhat general, and the actual job description and compensation may depend on the field of candidates.

            “So it could be just the sanitarian depending on candidates,” said McGrail, opening up the potential to beach-water testing, restaurant inspections, and the health-agent role.

            He recommended posting the job as a part-time health agent at 20 hours per week at a rate of pay of $25 to $35 per hour and, after some discussion initiated by Marion Board of Health Clerk Dot Brown, with the preferred qualification of the removal of nitrogen. McGrail will form a subcommittee with Brown and Assistant Town Administrator Judy Mooney to screen applicants, then bring in the potential hires for interviews.

            Marion is discussing reopening its beach parking lot, but without a paved lot with lined spaces, ensuring safe spacing is a challenge.

            Chief of Police John B. Garcia said a physical barrier would limit the number of cars that can park in the beach lot.

            Board of Selectmen Chairperson Randy Parker said it would be necessary to have the guard shack manned. At the same time, no one in the meeting thought that a person should be saddled with confrontations with violators and that spot-checks by the police with ticketing might be a solution.

            Brown noted that privileged stickers give vehicles access to surrounding roadside parking so it may not be possible to indirectly curb beach crowds via parking restrictions inside the beach lot. She doesn’t think any such measure has a realistic chance of success during the month of May.

            “Ultimately, we keep this on the agenda and you can discuss this at your next agenda,” suggested McGrail, who agreed at the request of Board of Health Chairperson John B. Howard to find out if Marion has enough saw horses to place in the parking lot.

            Meantime, Assistant Harbor Master Isaac Perry is planning to prepare the Marion town dock for a potential reopening over the next two weeks.

            Hoffer said that 2020 is probably going to be a bad summer for the EEE virus, noting perennial issues of tick-born diseases. “Everybody’s talking about nothing but COVID, but none of them are going away,” he said.

            Brown added, “Triple E is a three-year cycle and this is year two. You can spray, but you can’t spray yet. We don’t have mosquitoes, and it’s not clear if that works.”

            McGrail requested that one of the experts work with him on answering those questions for the public, estimating a dozen emails so far from concerned citizens.

            Howard said posting on Facebook to remind people about EEE and other cautions is a valuable tool, but the advice should be to “Call your own physician and ask those questions.”

            Hoffer also initiated discussion on the limits of the state’s or town’s authority to impose safeguards on the employees of businesses allowed to remain open during the stay-at-home advisory. He suggested that workers at Cumberland Farms should be wearing facemasks. Howard added that they should have their temperatures taken when they report for their shifts.

            In other business, Hoffer reported that Walega and Health Nurse Kathleen Downey have been talking with the state about contact tracing and a potential Facebook Live discussion on health issues where people could call or write in questions.

            The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for Tuesday, May 5.

            Only 90 minutes before Marion’s 3:00 pm Board of Health meeting, the Marion Rochester Health District passed motions to buy out Walega’s sick time, unused vacation time, personal days and comp-time, pay her part-time hours for May and June 2020 (Rochester only), credit Marion for Walega’s part-time hours in its FY21 operational budget, and vote to not appoint health agents for either town in FY21.

Marion-Rochester Health District

Marion Board of Health

By Mick Colageo

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