LETTER: Resident Concerned About Loss of Staff From Health Department

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(The following was first presented to the City Council during the Public Forum at the July 12, 2022 Council Meeting)

I am speaking to you about my concern over the long-standing problems within our Health Department. My information is from my attendance at Board of Health meetings, a review of minutes of public meetings, and my communications with members of the community and City staff.

I read a statement at the January Board of Health meeting detailing my concerns, and what I described has since grown worse. In essence I asked the BOH to look beyond the Department Head reports and examine the reasons so many talented people are leaving our city vulnerable during what was such a critical time. I am appealing to the City Council to exercise their charter-mandated oversight responsibility and hold an Executive Session to address the situation. 

My key concerns within the Health Department are:

• An alarming attrition rate: around 8 employees in the last 3 years. Even newly hired staff are resigning after only a few months

• The resignation of a dedicated and gifted BioTech Committee Chair

• A claim accepted for investigation by Mass Commission Against Discrimination targeting the Health Department

• Inaccessible Board of Health meeting minutes and reliance on only the Department Head for vital status reports

• A pattern of hostility and harassment directed at community members and staff, sometimes publicly. These patterns have been reported, but without effective oversight and accountability in place when problems of this nature arise, they worsen, directly impacting the lives of community members and City personnel

With that in mind, I ask you to consider these actions:

• Acknowledge there is a systemic issue from many years of poor oversight and insufficient information requested by and given to City Council

• Hold an executive session and report to one another about complaints you have received from impacted staff, residents, volunteers, other stakeholders

• Report/review concerns you have experienced and witnessed and those that are public record

• Ask the Acting City Manager to provide status updates related to Health Department concerns

• Direct the Acting City Manager to work with a Personnel Consultant to determine what is needed to implement accountability and resolution of the disturbing patterns and potentially legal violations claimed

• Request all impacted committees – Personnel and City Organization, Human Services, Planning and Economic Development, BioSafety, to name some – to provide a report on their Health Department-related work collaborations and complaints received

I respectfully request City Councilors go into Executive Session, share what you know and agree on what else you need to know.  Please, don’t wait for the new City Manager.  Oversight is your responsibility.  Thank you.

Jacky van Leeuwen
32 Whites Ave., Watertown 

4 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Concerned About Loss of Staff From Health Department

  1. A very troubling and well documented report. I’ve heard rumors to this effect, but this lays out a very clear case that immediate action needs to be taken. Thanks to Ms. van Leeuwen for bringing this to the public’s and Council’s attention.

  2. Yes! Long overdue. There has been no oversight of most departments it seems, and very little input from citizens sought about what’s working and what’s not. I hope the new town manager will take on the departments and make sure they are run as they should be. And I think the current state of affairs requires some scrutiny very soon before the new manager arrives, so he knows what he’s dealing with.

  3. This is a well articulated letter to the editor that deserves the close and immediate attention (and reaction) of all members of City Council. BioSafety should be at the top of the list given the Biotech growth Watertown has experienced.

  4. I am in agreement with Mr Tanis. Given the incredibly fast pace of the growth of the biotech industry here, including level 3 biolabs, this needs to take priority. There should be a MORATORIUM on accepting more applications for development and new research from level 2 and 3 biolabs until a full board, that includes at least three citizens of Watertown and consultants who have no financial bias, be installed.

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