, Salem, MA


March 12, 2013

Our view: Time to reduce the size of the Salem Board of Health

“The request is very simple, consistent with history and is common sense. Our purpose is to ensure the health of the community. We are not a political board, and somehow this issue is being made political. And I don’t think that’s very productive.”

— Barbara Poremba, chairwoman of the Salem Board of Health

Barbara Poremba has a point. The current makeup of the Salem Board of Health is not serving the needs of the public, and the City Council should move as soon as possible to fix the problem.

At issue is the fact that the board cannot find enough interested, qualified citizens to serve as members. While it is supposed to have seven members, it is currently “working” with only three, thanks to vacancies and resignations. The board has been forced to cancel two of its last four meetings because it could not meet its required quorum.

The simple truth is a seven-member Board of Health is too large. Many surrounding communities, including Peabody, Danvers and Beverly, have three-member health boards that seem to function without a problem.

Salem’s board was enlarged in the 1970s to manage what was then a city-owned hospital. The city ceded control of that hospital, Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital, many years ago. Now part of the Partners Heath Care System, it’s called the Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore.

A good argument could be made a large Board of Health was needed then. That’s not the case now, when the board, with seven members, outnumbers the health department staff, with six.

The city’s health agent, Larry Ramdin, sees the need for change.

“It’s impossible to really transact any business the board needs to transact,” Ramdin told reporter Bethany Bray. “If I have to move for a suspension order on a place or bring any orders for hearings before the board, I can’t ... because the board lacks a quorum to meet.”

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