The Town of Wellesley depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Wellesley has 11 Boards and Committees on the ballot at the Annual Town election each year in March. The 2019 election will be held on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
Contested race: Board of Health
The mission of the Wellesley Health Department is to assess and address the needs of the Wellesley community, in order to protect and improve the health and quality of life of its residents and work force.
This charge is carried out in part by the Board of Health. There are three members of the Board. Secretary Lloyd Tarlin, MD will vacate his seat when it expires in 2019. There are two candidates vying for that spot: Linda Oliver Grape and Dr. Jim Rodrigue. Grape’s responses were part of an earlier post. We invited them to answer a few questions about their qualifications and their priorities for the Town of Wellesley.
Dr. Jim Rodrigue, candidate for Board of Health
The Swellesley Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Dr. Jim Rodrigue: I’ve been in healthcare for 30 years – as a clinician, a researcher, a teacher, and an administrator. I’m a Professor of Surgery and Psychiatry in the Harvard Medical School, and I’m the Vice Chair of the Department of Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. I have been funded for over 20 years by the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on how best to reduce social, economic, and racial disparities in healthcare. I have chaired many committees at the university level as well as nationally and internationally in my area of specialty. As a clinical psychologist, academic leader, and health outcomes researcher, I have considerable experience in program development and evaluation, strategic planning, policy development, fiscal management, and building collaborative relationships. Also, I am an elected Town Meeting Member and a member of the Recreation Commission. I believe that my healthcare background, leadership experience, and town engagement/governance will be invaluable assets to the Board of Health.
Sw: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your 3-year tenure on the Board?
Rodrigue: Despite its affluence, Wellesley is not immune to mental health problems, addiction, food insecurity, domestic violence, limited access to affordable healthcare, and the adverse impact of climate change on public health. I will work with other Board members to ensure that the Director of the Health Department (Leonard Izzo) has the sufficient resources to carry out the many activities that are consistent with the Department’s mission:
Implement disease prevention and health promotion programs
Provide community health, nursing, and mental health services
Conduct public outreach and education
Conduct compliance inspections for 160+ food permit holders to minimize community
Respond to emerging health threats within the community (e.g., tobacco and nicotine
delivery products, opioid crisis)
Minimize the risks of climate change on public health
Conduct housing and environmental inspections
In addition, I have five core initiatives that I will prioritize in the first six months of my term:
i. Increase funding for Health Department
ii. Expand mental health resources available to residents, particularly for middle and high
iii. Tighten regulations for tobacco and nicotine delivery products to limit availability
iv. Pursue later school start times for middle and high school students in Wellesley Public
Schools (data show substantial health benefits)
v. Implement “Environmental Sustainability for Public Health” initiative
Sw: What is your hot-button issue?
Rodrigue: I would characterize all five items above as “hot-button” items. However, the Health Department needs more funding to pursue these initiatives and to administer their usual day-to-day activities. Wellesley claims that health and well-being is one of its core values. Talk is cheap. Show me the budget and I’ll see what the town values. It certainly isn’t health, as funding for the Wellesley Health Department – as measured by dollars per resident – is substantially lower than that of most other
Massachusetts towns of our size. This inadequate funding level has real consequences, including an inability to respond to emerging health threats (e.g., opioid crisis, nicotine delivery products, etc.), delays in implementing new policies and regulations that place public health and safety at risk, grossly insufficient attention to mental health problems in our children and adolescents (see the Metro West Adolescent Health Survey findings), and the risk of losing outstanding Health Department employees. What Mr. Izzo and his staff have been able to accomplish for town residents, despite insufficient funding, is nothing short of heroic – but this must change.
Sw: What is the greatest health-related need in Wellesley?
Rodrigue: There are several important health-related needs in Wellesley. If I must choose only one it would be the mental health needs of the youth in town. I encourage everyone to read the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey findings (available from WPS) and the Public Health and Wellness Chapter of the Wellesley Unified Plan. Critical unmet mental health needs identified in these reports. Add to this the emerging addiction to nicotine delivery products among adolescents and we are rapidly
moving toward a crisis in our town.
Sw: Is there anything you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Rodrigue: Along with my wife and three daughters, I’ve lived in Wellesley for nearly 13 years and I am grateful for the many benefits we have accrued from being part of this wonderful community. As a member of the Board of Health, I will commit my time and expertise to ensure the well-being of our neighbors, young and old, and to raise the overall health of the community. I would be honored to have your support and vote on March 5th.
Sw: How should voters reach you if they want more information?
Rodrigue: I’m very accessible and appreciate hearing about any issues or concerns that may impact the health of our neighbors and community. Please email me at: JimRodrigueForHealth@hotmail.com.
MORE: Wellesley election 2019