Town struggling to find applicants for health director vacancy

SOUTHWICK — The Board of Health and interim Health Director Tom Fitzgerald said Thursday evening that they may be struggling to find applicants for a new health director because of shortages in the medical workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fitzgerald said that just one person has applied for the health director’s position so far. When Fitzgerald retired at the end of 2019, there were four or five applicants to fill the vacancy.

Former Health Director Tammy Spencer, who took over for Fitzgerald at the beginning of 2020, left Southwick to take the health director job in East Longmeadow.

Fitzgerald said that it is a point of concern for him that there is just one applicant so far, when the salary for the position hasn’t been posted along with the job listing.

“I think there is something going on with COVID, and people being burnt out,” said Fitzgerald.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many medical professionals have been reported to be leaving the field due to general burnout.

Board of Health member Jean Nilsson suggested reducing the requirements of the position while also posting the salary. Fitzgerald suggested having the same requirements, but allowing them to be met within 18 months of the health director’s first day.

In Spencer’s last weeks in Southwick, she had been working on a grant that would have funded a shared-services agreement between Southwick, Blandford, Granville, Montgomery, Russell and Tolland. The grant and agreement would allow for at least one shared public health nurse to be used by the six communities.

Fitzgerald said that it may be possible to add a seventh community to the list, which could be West Springfield, and get more grant funding. He said he has been speaking with Jeanne Galloway of the West Springfield Health Department about this possibility.

The additional grant money could be used to give a higher salary to the next health director, which may attract more applicants. Board of Health member Mikenzie Cain said that she had been researching the salaries of local health directors and found that the current salary in Southwick was approximately $10,000 lower than that of other communities.

Fitzgerald said that Southwick is in the same boat as other communities looking for health department personnel. Longmeadow, he said, is also having trouble finding a new health inspector.

The Board of Health would need to get approval from the Select Board to increase the health director’s salary.

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