FOR BOARD OF HEALTH: Helaine Hazlett

Years in Marblehead:  I am Helaine Hazlett, candidate for re-election to the Board of Health.  I am pleased to be invited to contribute to the Marblehead News Group’s Election Guide.  I have lived in Marblehead for over forty years and have been a public servant in this town for most of my adult life.  My husband and I brought up our four children here, where two of them and their families continue to reside. 

Occupation and education: I am running for re-election to the Board of Health because of my qualifications and the passion I have for this community. I studied public health as a science and dedicated my entire life to promoting healthy behavior and preventing disease. Ever since receiving degrees in health-related fields from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, I have been dedicated to public health education.  I have taught health education and worked for the Newton Health Department.  As an experienced public health official, I am qualified to continue to serve the Town.  

Appointed positions and elected office: In addition to a strong public health background, I have a working knowledge of the Town’s government.  Through the numerous committees and boards in Marblehead I have served, I have experience in Town budgets, legal matters, and personnel issues. Throughout my involvement in the community and the positions I have held, I consistently gravitate to the areas of health and education.  My first elected position was as president of the Marblehead Counseling Center.  I served three terms on the School Committee, and during that time I was made aware of the limited funding our high school graduates were receiving from the various awards from community groups. As a result, with the help of the guidance department and some generous citizens, I founded the Citizen’s Scholarship Foundation, now known as Dollars for Scholars.  Additionally, I noticed that much of the enrichment courses were being eliminated in the school budget; hence, I founded the Friends of the Marblehead Public Schools.  After a serious hate crime in the community, I asked the then-Board of Selectmen to establish the Marblehead Task Force Against Discrimination where I continue to serve as co-chair.

What are three reasons/issues as to why you’re running for election? 

I am not a single-issue person. First, there are unfinished projects and health issues that I have been deeply committed to such as the transfer station project which I have overseen since the beginning and would like to see through completion. I am proud of the completion of the remediation of the landfill and that our Transfer Station is the “gem” of the North Shore.  A Traffic study is currently being done and a Town Committee has been appointed so that all residents of Marblehead will be satisfied to the very best of the Board’s ability.  Second, with my knowledge and experience, I want to be part of the healing process to assist our citizens from the very young to the elderly who have been suffering from and coping with serious health issues throughout the past two and a half years. Third, I want to continue to work with the current Board, a group of qualified individuals who are trained in and make a difference in our public’s health. We have respect for each other’s professional qualifications even though we may come from a different point of view.  In that vein, I consider myself a collaborator and a consensus builder.  

What areas of municipal government do you think the town could give more attention to? 

Town government is aware of its need to pay more attention to the mental health and well-being of its citizens.  This past year, the Marblehead Coalition was begun by the former Town Administrator with representation from the Select Board, the Chief of Police and others including myself to address issues of the community such as diversity and affordable housing among other topics.  Currently, the Town, through the Board of Health budget, supports the Marblehead Counseling Center in the amount of $60,000 annually.  This money, although not nearly enough, is to support the needs of town employees and residents who are financially unable to pay for the services.  The Mental Health Task Force created at the height of the pandemic under the auspices of the Board of Health is providing programming with very little financial support from the Town.

What do you feel will be the biggest issues facing the town in the coronavirus pandemic’s wake? 

The #1 issue facing the town is the serious increase in mental health issues of our citizens.  As Marblehead emerges out of the pandemic, the need for mental health services for our students, their parents, seniors and all citizens is critical.  Mental Health professionals from the community have volunteered their time to sit on the Board of Health’s Mental Health Task Force. They have created an extensive list of professionals for people who need assistance and have offered several presentations geared to students and parents and a program specifically for the senior population, their families and care-givers. I will continue to support the Mental Health Task Force and their efforts.

Some would say that the Board of Health has lacked transparency in recent years. Is this criticism valid? Fair or unfair, how do you dispel this perception? 

Although it has been a challenging few years, I am proud of my desire for transparency and the fact that I listen and bring people together.  The Board of Health has been open and communicated with the community through Zoom on a weekly basis during the height of the pandemic with the Director giving weekly COVID reports from the Commonwealth.  There was always time for questions from the audience where numerous times there were over 100 in attendance.  The director and his staff were available 5 days a week answering a myriad of phone calls and emails.  The Board solicited community input in forming the Mental Health Task Force and worked closely with the school department where I was the representative from the Board of Health at the Superintendent’s weekly Advisory Team meetings. The Director kept the Board informed around issues surrounding the schools, the restaurants, the transfer station, and the vaccination clinics among other town situations.  Board members visited the transfer station and met with the employees on several occasions who assured members there were no ongoing concerns. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the Board gets back to conducting business in person and to a more normal cadence.  

What are the most significant issues facing the Board of Health, and how would you address them if elected? 

While the completion of the transfer station is a priority, as the country and the world emerge out of the pandemic, the most critical issue is to continue to advocate for our children, their families, our seniors and all residents of Marblehead by addressing the serious increase in mental health issues.  Additionally, I will work closely with the schools and police to increase drug and alcohol awareness and lower opioid addiction.

How do you feel about mask mandates? 

As more and more people get vaccinated, I do not envision a mask mandate in Marblehead.  I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to all levels of the community – the students, their teachers and the superintendent, the shop keepers and the restaurants, the physicians and all the health care providers, the town employees and most of all, the citizens of this magnificent Town for their cooperation and understanding during this most difficult time.

In recent years, the Board of Health has taken the lead with somewhat controversial environmental initiatives, like the ban on single-use plastic bags. What, if anything, should be the next frontier for the board in this respect? 

The ban of single-use plastic bags was approved by the citizens of Marblehead on Town Meeting floor. In instituting the new regulation, the Board of Health allowed a period of several months before the ban became effective.  This gave the markets, shop keepers and restaurants an opportunity to make use of any bags they still had.  It also gave the consumer the chance to obtain reusable bags.  The Board of Health even had a contest at the high school to design a reusable bag which immediately sold out!  It is now time for the Board to consider replacing the plastic take-out containers with compostable ones.  In addition, I am committed to work with the Green Community Committee to reach the Town’s goal to be carbon-free by 2040. There is no doubt environmental health is very important to me as a public health official and to the citizens of Marblehead. 

When we think of “public health,” we tend to think about disease and other impacts on our physical condition, but awareness has been growing about the importance of our psychological well-being as well. How can the Board of Health be a force for improving the collective mental health of Marblehead?

A common thread throughout my responses has been addressing the mental health of our community.  From the time I began serving the Town as President of the Marblehead Counseling Center, mental health has been in the forefront of my life’s work. I care about the total health of our residents as well as each and every individual being accepted for who they are and what they believe. I think it is of utmost importance for the Board of Health to continue its work in ensuring all members of our community have access to the support they need. This is my pledge.  

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