READING - The town’s Board of Health recently confirmed the appointment of former Danvers health department manager Adeokunbo Solarin as Reading’s first full-time public health director.
During their most recent gathering, held virtually to formalize Solarin’s selection for the public safety department vacancy, all regular and associate members of the Board of Health enthusiastically welcomed Solarin to the community by unanimously backing the hiring decision.
“I’d like to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to serve the residents of the Town of Reading,” the new health director said just before the Board of Health’s confirmation vote. “My long-term goals are to remain in this position and become an indispensable employee. I’m hoping to take [the town’s new approach to public health] to the highest level possible.”
Wooed away from a identical managerial post in Danvers, the Illinois State University alumnus officially began his career in Reading last month after being named by Town Manager Robert LeLacheur as the top choice for the newly created health director’s position. Taking over the supervisory duties from Interim Public Health Director Peter Mirandi on Nov. 15, Solarin ultimately beat out 15 other contenders who were vying for the job opening.
With a resume boasting more than 15 years experience in the public health field, Solarin told board members that he felt compelled to apply to the Reading job opening after learning about the community’s decision to reorganize the health department under a newly formed public safety division that will also include the police and
Under the new model, which shifts the department away from its current organization under the town’s public safety division, public health staffers will work more collaboratively with police and fire officials and report directly to the town manager.
Eventually, the transition will be formalized with the health department’s relocation to a renovated office space within the Reading Police Department. The physical move is likely many months away yet, as representatives at last October’s Special Town Meeting just appropriated the funds needed to cover the building renovations.
“I strongly believe that will result in a quality-focused approach that will ensure health optimization for the residents of Reading. I believe the Town of Reading is moving in the right direction and that I have the skills, knowledge, and resolve to lead this transition,” said Solarin of the public safety model, which he described as both “forward-looking and progressive.”
Holding a master’s degree in public health, the new department head holds a multitude of industry-related certifications. After graduating from college, he began his career in the field as an inspector in Watertown and later moved on to serve in both urban and rural settings.
His resume includes stints as a sanitation specialist in Lynn and as a septic system inspector in the state’s Cape Cod area. He later accepted his first managerial position after being promoted to health director in the Cape Code community of Oak bluffs. He then accepted a job as the deputy director and operations manager for Somerville’s inspectional services division, before accepting his last job as head of Danvers’ health department in April of 2021.
According to the veteran health department manager, his passion for medicine and healing was inspired by his mother, who worked as a nurse.
As a teenager, Solarin was determined to become a physician, but while enrolled in his final year a pre-med program in college, a visit to the library for a research paper would ultimately derail those plans.
“During my final year of college, I ran across an article in the library on the amount of money this nation was spending on health care. It came out to be about 17 percent of the country’s [gross domestic product (GDP)], which amounted to around $3 trillion. I was stunned, and it certainly got my attention,” he recalled while introducing himself to the Board of Health.
“I started my own independent research to figure out why this nation was spending so much on healthcare and to my surprise, I found out it was mainly because of preventable disease and illnesses,” the new health director continued. “It was at that moment I decided to abandon my medical training for the field of public health. I thought to myself, instead of spending all that money curing diseases, why don’t we spend much less and prevent them?”
Solarin’s arrival in Reading caps off a year-plus-long endeavor to bolster the ranks of the health department in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Board of Health Chairman Dr. Richard Lopez, after convincing Town Meeting representatives of the need to hire a health director to coordinate the community’s pandemic response while also supervising the town’s health agent and nursing staff, town officials last November made their first attempt at hiring a manager.
Ultimately, that initial search, launched while many other communities were similarly searching for public health staffers and managers, attracted just a few candidates.
“Things for a variety of reasons didn’t work out, so we revised the job description to make a master’s in pubic health preferred instead of required,” Lopez explained. “That got us many more candidates.’
The town ultimately relied on a screening committee, consisting of LeLacheur, Lopez, Police Chief David Clark, Fire Chief Gregory Burns, and a school and library representative, to vet the initial round of candidates.
Ultimately, five semi-finalists advanced to a second round of interviews, before Solarin and tow other unnamed applicants were designated as job finalists. LeLacheur first revealed during a Select Board meeting early last month that the Danvers health director had been hired for the position.
“I think it was a full-fledged process and we saw a lot of candidates,” Lopez said of the extended hunt for Reading’s first full-time health department manager.