READING - With the town’s health inspector tendering his resignation a little over a week ago now, Interim Reading Health Director Peter Mirandi late last week announced his plan to backfill the unexpected manpower shortage with private contractors.
During a virtual meeting late last week, the Board of Health informally sanctioned Mirandi’s request to temporarily rely on an independent inspector to replace former Reading Health Agent Daniel Markman.
According to Mirandi, who admitted to being caught completely off-guard by Markman’s resignation letter, the health inspector’s departure comes as local health departments across the state are dealing with high turnover rates. As a result, he believes relying on a pair of independent contractors is the best way to ensure local businesses are adhering to health and sanitation codes.
“I had been working on building a rapport with the man,” said the health director, explaining he had no idea of Markman’s plans to leave Reading. “But the long and the short of it is the man is gone and we don’t have a full-time inspector right now.”
Under the proposal, one part-time inspector will continue conducting site visits at the town’s food-service establishments. However, to ensure Reading also has the ability to work proactively with restaurant owners to address resulting food safety or sanitation code violations, a second independent inspector would be retained.
In the meantime, a search will be launched for a full-time health inspector to replace Markman.
Mirandi has already been in touch with an experienced inspector about taking on the temporary role.
“We’re working with one contracted inspector who was hired back in March of last year. But if we do inspections on a fee-for-service basis, we bring back problems that no one here can address. And that’s gets us into a deeper pickle than before,” said the health director.
“This person would be closer to full-time and would be able to problem-solve the issues that arise,” later elaborated Board of Health Chairman Richard Lopez. “We are going to fill the permanent position that Dan is vacation. This is just a stop-gap measure.”
Board of Health member Kerry Dunnell, though not opposed to retaining the services of a full-time equivalent contractor, suggested that the community might too be able to leverage mutual aid agreements for help with any manpower issues. At a minimum, Dunnell suggested that Reading reach out to its neighbors for help.
“Many communities in the state enter into mutual aid agreements to address just these types of circumstances,” the Board of Health vice-chair said.
Board of Health associate member Kevin Sexton, recalling that there were few applicants for the inspector’s job before Markman’s hiring, also agreed that it made sense to make alternate arrangements and backup plans.
According to Sexton, with local health departments struggling with high turnover rates as exhausted staffers respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, it might take longer than anticipated to find a suitable replacement.
“We didn’t have too many folks apply [the last time around] and that was pre-COVID. Obviously, we need something in the immediacy, but I”d rather have two or three people we can lean on, because the this could take a while,” said Sexton.
Ultimately, the Board of Health didn’t take a formal vote to endorse Mirandi’s temporary staffing plan, as the health director is already authorized to use contracted services for departmental functions.