, Salem, MA

March 25, 2013

Letter: Council should return Salem health board to three members

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

What follows is an open letter to the Salem City Council:

We thank you in advance for taking the time to meet with us regarding our request to appeal the 1972 amendment that provided for the expansion of the Salem Board of Health. In preparation for this meeting, we would like to make certain that we have provided you with a clear understanding of the history and rationale for this request.

In 1912, Massachusetts General Laws, Section 111, Chapter 26, established that all “boards of health have three members.” Up until 1972, Salem was in compliance with this law and had a three-member board. There were no documented issues with this. All members were appointed by the mayor, and each received a stipend of $400 in addition to municipal health and retirement benefits.

Then, in 1972, Salem purchased and built the long-term-care hospital on the present site of Shaughnessy-Kaplan Hospital. It was at that time that the city petitioned the state to expand the membership of the board to seven. The purpose of this was to retain the three members of the existing Board of Health and to accommodate the three-member board of the hospital to include doctors Kaplan and Shaughnessy; the seventh member was added to break a tie. This plan also allowed for all to keep/receive stipends and municipal health and retirement benefits.

Currently, the city no longer manages a long-term-care hospital, so the reason for the expanded board of health no longer applies. In compliance with the Mass. General Laws, Section 111, Chapter 26, our surrounding communities of Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead and Swampscott all have three-member boards. In some communities, the members of the health board receive stipends; in one, the chairperson receives $6,000 and the other two members each receive $5,541 per year. The Salem Board of Health no longer receives either stipends or municipal health/retirement benefits. Our point is not that we should be paid or that others should not. The point is that if this were the case in Salem, the cost of retain a seven-member board would be $39,246, and that expense would certainly be a great incentive to grant our appeal to reduce the size of the expanded board.

Our request is simple. It is consistent with our history. It is common sense. We want to repeal the 1972 act that allowed for an expansion of the board of health to accommodate the long-term-care hospital and to return to the original Mass. General Laws, Chapter 111, Section 26, which established a three-member board. The current seven-member board is more than double the size that is mandated in the state law. In fact, our board is larger than the six-member department that we oversee now that the city does not manage a large long-term-care facility and its many employees. The current oversized board creates an overly burdensome and less productive process; in this case, “more is less.” There was a reason the state mandated that boards of health would be three members; efficiency and effectiveness were certainly high on that list.

There apparently remains some underlying suspicion on the part of some members of the City Council that our request to revert to the original three-member board is politically motivated. Please be assured that this is certainly not the case. This appeal comes directly from the board, not the mayor. In fact, since the mayor appoints the board, would it not actually be in her favor to have more appointees?

Unlike other city committees, the Board of Health is autonomous and nonpolitical. Given our professional public health backgrounds, our mission is to act in the best interest of the well-being of the community. We are undeniably dedicated in our service as volunteers to promote, prevent and protect the overall health of our community.

As evidenced by the thoroughness of this document and our own needs assessment, we have given this request careful thought and consideration. We trust that you will honor our unanimous resolution to repeal the 1972 amendment to expand the Board of Health and return us to the original rules that are consistent with state law and other communities.

We appreciate your support. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate in reaching out to us.

Dr. Barbara A. Poremba, EdD, MPH, MSN, CNE, ANP-BC

Chairperson, Salem Board of Health

Martin Fair, CHO

Gayle Sullivan, MSN, RNBS