Health Director hard at work

BETHANY - Is your community healthy? You can thank your public health director if it is.

The job of the public health practitioner is invisible. When done successfully there are no outbreaks of food-borne illness, communicable diseases don't happen and school systems have few complaints.

For nearly three months Mary Ann Booss has been working to give the residents of Bethany some structure in relationship to their public health needs. Booss was appointed health director after the resignation of Dr. Ronald Zlotoff, who acted as the part-time health director for Bethany. Zlotoff had requested a minimal salary ($10,000), malpractice insurance and health insurance to continue in the position part-time.

First Selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski said it was by chance that Zlotoff resigned when Booss finished her MPH.

"A Health Director must be a Medical Doctor or hold a Masters Degree in Public Health. It was serendipitous that, Mary Ann Booss, a long time Bethany resident and Registered Nurse, had recently received her MPH and was willing to step in as Acting Health Director until the town decides exactly how we will meet this new challenge," Gorski said.

In addition to the town appointment, a health director must also be approved by the state Commissioner of Health.

Booss says the residents of Bethany deserve a full time health director to address their needs.

"We need a real health director here It's an opportunity to positively influence health issues in Bethany. Having one person part time does not allow for much impact," she said.

And Gorski agrees with her.

"The responsibilities of the Health Director have increased over the last few years. Mandatory attendance at numerous statewide meetings is just one example. In the past, the town has depended on a physician in private practice to perform the duties of Health Director. That is no longer a feasible option," Gorski said.

"The responsibilities that fall under a health director have been dispersed to a number of people in town. For instance, reports that should go to the health director have gone elsewhere - people with a health background have been asked to submit required paperwork to the state Dept. of Public Health instead of the director," Booss said.

And there is no completed bio-terrorism plan from the health department aspect.

And the state agrees and is pushing municipalities to create such positions.

"The state of Connecticut is proposing legislation to require that all towns employ a full time Health Director or join a Health District," Gorski said.

Booss is currently being paid $10,000 for her part-time position. She said she hopes to be very active in her position.

Booss is working on a health assessment for the elementary and junior high schools. The Center for Disease Control already has an instrument that has been tested for validity and is given to health directors free of charge Booss said. She has already been in conversation with school personnel.

She is taking the sanitarian class weekly that began Jan. 7 and runs through April 19. Booss said she is not interested in the sanitarians job but believes it will be good background for enforcing codes.

"I don't have an agenda except for the public health. I answer to the first selectwoman and state Dept. of Health. I am concerned for the health of the Bethany population and students and staff at the junior high school," she said.

Booss has spent a good deal of her time addressing environmental concerns at Bethany Junior High School.

She has reviewed the environmental issues and read all the documents associated because she wanted to have an independent sense of the issues and problems.

"People have their own reaction to things," she said.

For instance, she said, she heard there was an increase in rashes but when she contacted the school nurse she learned there was only one person with a rash.

Another example was when she heard a ceiling tile had fallen and hit a child but learned from the principal that no one had been hit when the tile fell.

"People are ready to think the worse. There is so much rumor," she said.

Booss said she wasn't dismissing the problems at the school.

"I am not saying there are no problems at the junior high. There are parts of the building that are problematic and need to be dealt with. There are structural issues due to the moisture. I don't have authority over buildings. I can only request that the building issues be addressed," she said.

Just as she did at a recent board of education meeting when she asked to have a structural engineer do an evaluation of the tectum, which in some areas has been wet.

"They need to address the root cause of the indoor air quality problems. The ventilation system is inadequate and the roof needs to be repaired. Mold is growing," she said.

In December Booss met with the faculty at the junior high school to talk about the conditions in the school. They asked many questions and she promised to get back to them with answers and will in February.

Gorski said that Booss was working with her to help determine whether Bethany should have its own Health Director or join a health district.

"With Mary Ann's help, we are assessing exactly what the cost and benefits are to Bethany to join a Health District. Joining a Health District (which must be approved at a Town Meeting) will have a per capita cost, all pertinent records will move to the District Offices and the town will no longer receive the fees for well and septic approvals," Gorski said.

Gorski said town residents will have the final word on how the town proceeds. "Ultimately, Bethany's voters will decide. In the meantime, we are fortunate to have a person of Mary Ann Booss's character and dedication to assist in this process," Gorski said.