, Salem, MA

Local News

March 11, 2013

Health board asks to resize

7-member panel oversees 6 Salem employees; council rejected previous request


Robert Blenkhorn, a former health agent for the city, is in favor of reducing the size of the Board of Health and petitioned the City Council this winter to be able to weigh in on the issue. A meetin g is not yet scheduled, but councilors voted Feb. 28 to agree to his request for a discussion.

In November, the City Council voted against a request to decrease the health board’s size from seven to five members and change the department head’s title from health agent to health director. Both issues were initiated and supported by the Board of Health. Neither would have changed the duties or authority of the department or board.

Several councilors were skeptical of the board’s inability to get a quorum and expressed reluctance to change a setup that has worked for decades.

The council’s Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment had previously held a discussion of the issues and voted to recommend both changes.

An issue can be brought to the City Council once per calendar year. Now that it’s 2013, the Board of Health plans to petition the council to reduce the board to three members.

Many surrounding communities, including Peabody, Danvers and Beverly, have three-member boards of health.

“It works for everyone else,” Poremba said. “Why wouldn’t it work for us?”

A 1912 state law established local boards of health at three members, Poremba said. Salem’s board was enlarged in the 1970s to manage a city-owned hospital.

“The Salem Board of Health, at that time, was really a large health department,” she said. “We had double the staff we have now.”

The city gave up control of that hospital — Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital — decades ago. Now called Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore, it is part of the Partners Health Care system.

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