HARWICH — Selectmen put in place a hiring freeze early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Several town departments are now pushing to fill what they say are essential positions for the operation of the town.
Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers last week identified six positions department heads say are “critical hiring needs.” They included the social services coordinator at the council on aging; a part-time health inspector in the health department; an emergency telecommunications dispatcher in the police department; an executive assistant in the building department; and laborer in the water department.
The main focus of the discussion selectmen held July 6 was the COA social services coordinator, due to the resignation of coordinator Susanna Keith in April. Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine wanted to know if the services performed by the coordinator could be provided through other sources, such as the Barnstable County Health Department and volunteer services.
The COA has begun using the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps., which is working with the state department of public health to provide assistance to senior citizens in communities across the commonwealth. The APHVC group is made up of graduate students in public health programs who reach out to vulnerable senior populations, checking in periodically and providing assistance with some of their needs.
COA Director Emily Mitchell made it clear any county assistance and volunteer efforts would be piecemeal. It's important to have someone who can do the assessing and triage work to meet the needs of seniors locally, she said. Volunteer programs do not provide those services, and Mitchell said she does not see any other way to address the issue. She walked the selectmen through a lengthy list of services a social services coordinator provides, including community based services, advocacy, direct support services, responses to critical needs and providing information and referrals.
“I’m pretty upset it’s taken this long to get here,” said Selectman Michael MacAskill, who pushed to fill the position weeks ago. He offered a motion to have fill the position as soon as possible, and the board approved moving forward with advertising the job.
The other vacancies identified by department heads were more of a notification to selectmen than immediate action items, Powers said.
But Health Department Director Meggan Eldredge said part-time health inspector Mark Polselli tendered his resignation effective July 9 both personal and professional reasons. She told selectmen a couple of weeks ago about the pressures put on her department by the COVID-19 pandemic, and selectmen agreed at that time to allow the department to hire a part-time COVID-19 health inspector on a temporary basis. Eldredge told selectmen there have been no responses to the advertisement for the position.
“The demands of the department have expanded not only recently during the pandemic, but overall,” Eldredge said. Permit reviews, septic inspections, complaint inspections and correspondence with builders, contractor and engineers have all been building up. The part-time health inspector was reviewing real estate transfer inspection reports, inspecting food establishments and swimming pools.
“It would be extremely beneficial to change this part-time position to a full time health inspector,” Eldredge said. “I need a full-time position to fully manage the community sanitation programs which currently lack quality and quantity due to the limited amount of time staff has.”
The county is able to provide one inspector for a day a week, but it is not enough to address the demand on the department. She also said it is hard to find a health inspector willing to work 19 hours a week without benefits.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine agreed the situation should be a priority as it could impact the business community. But MacAskill said the creation of a full-time position will have to go to town meeting. That will take about three months to work through.
Selectmen recommended Eldredge advertise the part-time position created by Polselli’s departure, but indicate in the notice there is the potential for it to become a full-time position.
Selectmen also agreed more documentation is needed on the cost impact for the dispatcher position, now being filled using a police officer paid overtime.