Candidate Q & A: Dr. Thomas Massaro, Board of Health

The following represents the candidate’s responses to the Current’s Board of Health-specific questions. Jump back to Election Guide

Years in Marblehead: 1 year

Occupation: Retired physician, engineer and health care executive


a. Engineering:
Cornell (MS),
University of California, Berkeley (PhD)
b. Medicine:
U of Wisconsin, Madison (MD)
U of Colorado, (Residency/fellowships in Pediatrics, Neonatology,
and Critical Care)
c. Management:
Stanford University Graduate School of Business (MS)

Appointed positions and/or elected offices: New Mexico Department of Health (2017-2022) as chief medical officer, regional public health officer, state school health officer. Southwest Virginia Regional Health Authority (2016-19): lead consultant for defining an $80M public health package. University of Botswana (2007-2012): founding dean, UB School of Medicine.  University of Virginia (1981-2007):  Harrison Foundation professor of medicine and law,  academic appointments in school of  medicine (pediatrics, public health sciences), law school, and business school chief of staff of UVA Health System. 

What are the three reasons/issues motivating your decision to run for election?
1. I would like to be an active, contributing citizen in my new hometown by sharing my knowledge and experience in public health.  

2. As a recently retired physician, I will have the time and the capacity to dig deeper into some of the issues requiring Board attention here.

3. I have the potential to be an agent of positive change. I just might be the right person at the right time for this Board. Recent Board meetings have apparently been quite heated. I believe effective leaders work at shaping the future more than they spend time criticizing the past. As a new member with no preexisting relationships or biases, I can encourage the Board to move beyond yesterday’s tensions, to focus on the policies and decisions needed today and to develop a logical and positive vision for tomorrow. 

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? 
As a newcomer, I am not able to judge the Board’s previous actions. In the meetings I have attended, the Board has met the published requirements for transparency. However, knowing that many residents still do not believe they get enough information to make reasonable judgements about our decisions, perhaps more could be done. In public health, it is virtually impossible to over-communicate. If elected, I will work to get more information out to as many people in as many ways as possible.

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

The potential public health agenda is large but there are resource constraints on its possible actions. My response would be the Board should consider partnering with other agencies and departments to amplify its impact. I am a pediatrician concerned about the health of children. In New Mexico, I was a major contributor to a program in the child protective services area designed to protect newborns exposed to harmful substances in utero. It helped the infants by helping their moms who were using drugs. It was ultimately approved by unanimous vote of both houses of the legislature. I was also the state school health officer. We wrote a grant that brought $10 million to the Public Education Department for improvement of mental health services in the public schools. We should also reach out to the Council on Aging to see what common issues there might be regarding the health of seniors as well. There should be funding available for multidisciplinary projects like those.

Also, there should be increased emphasis on behavioral health and substance abuse. 

Finally, the Transfer Station See my response below.

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?

Behavioral health and substance abuse are two of the hottest topics in the post-pandemic public health environment. The Board can and should be a major force in this area. The Behavioral Health Subcommittee is a great initial attempt at dealing with the issue. Communication about the extent of mental health problems in society is important. Efforts to destigmatize the seeking of assistance for mental health problems should be paramount. The Board supports the Counseling Center, but behavioral health providers are in short supply everywhere. The Board could help by determining if the reimbursements for those providing care to vulnerable populations are competitive. To have a meaningful impact, the Board or its subcommittee will need significant additional resources. This is a great platform for seeking additional funding perhaps in collaboration with other regional jurisdictions, universities and/or nor-profits. 

There seems to be a bit of public distrust around the Transfer Station project. What would you do to address that? 
The Transfer Station is an important resource for the community, but it also seems to be the area where a perceived lack of transparency is great. Based on my personal research, there is not a readily available and uniformly accepted set of “facts” out there covering the lifetime of this project. That seems to support the transparency concerns and could amplify the potential for disinformation. If elected and if there are no legal or procedural barriers, I would take responsibility for generating a report on the entire history of the project to try to address the concerns and minimize the distrust.  

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