The Gloucester Health Department is going through some staff changes with the retirement of Public Health Director Max Schenk and the hiring of a new public health nurse, Kathleen Cunningham.
Schenk, 57, who grew up in Gloucester from age 6 and graduated from Gloucester High School in 1983, will retire at the end of the month.
Before coming to work for the Department of Health in late August 2005, he worked as director of outreach for the National Wildlife Refuge Association based in Washington, DC. He called it “a wonderful job,” but one that required a lot of travel. He was recently married and was looking for something locally related to the environment.
That’s when one of his mentors, Dave Sargent, a former shellfish cop and now a member of the Conservation Commission who was then one of the Health Department’s sanitarians, suggested that the job and Schenk would be a good fit. . Schenk said he thought he would try it for a few years.
“The next thing I know it’s almost 17 years later,” Schenk said. He grew up with the department doing Title 5 (septic system) inspections and working with wells, water quality and in other roles.
He has served three times as interim director. After former Health Director Karin Carroll left in July 2021 after five years, Schenk served as interim director and was then promoted to director in January.
Schenk said that while the Board of Health was going through an interview process to hire a director after Carroll’s departure, Schenk, who lives in Newburyport, said he let the board know it was his intention that he and his wife planned to retire within a year. or so.
When the board couldn’t settle on a candidate, Schenk took over to help bring stability to a department that had seen several departures amid a spike in COVID-19 cases over the winter.
“Luckily, we’ve got there overall, and the core staff is very strong with Kate on board and Jake Taylor, our new inspector overseeing the program, and then there’s Brianne Gray, who’s our new inspector responsible for housing,” said Schenk.
In February or March, the Board of Health began discussing strategic planning.
“I talked to them and said if you’re going to go through this process … you really have to do it with whoever is going to be in office long term,” Schenk said.
Meanwhile, for her dedication and “amazing work,” Schenk said Rachael Belisle-Toler, formerly an inspector in the department, has become assistant principal. Schenk said Belisle-Toler is more than qualified for her new role and he’s just a phone call away if anyone has any questions.
“Yes, Max’s retirement is a very significant loss,” Board of Health Chairman Joe Rosa said in an email. He said the board is working to hire a new director. “Hopefully everything will be resolved by the end of the month.”
The position is advertised with a salary range of $89,154 to $112,012, according to the job posting on the city’s website.
Cunningham, 32, has come to Gloucester from a diverse background. The Ohio native said she has been a nurse for about eight years and worked in Virginia, Michigan, Vermont, Florida and Ohio before coming to Massachusetts.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she began working for the federal government and had a fellowship with the Federal Office of Emergency Medical Services and a subsequent fellowship in the Office of Global Affairs working on the Pandemic and Emerging Threats Team, which led her in doing political work on how people can respond to the pandemic.
She didn’t do any front-line work because she was in Australia when the pandemic started, Cunningham said, so when she got back she tried to join a hospital, but at the time, everyone thought the pandemic would only last three months. and no one was hiring. This led to her political work with the federal government.
Cunningham, who has a master’s in public health from the University of South Florida, is filling a position previously filled by Cindy Juncker and Bridget Nelligan.
The department’s previous public health nurse was Kelley Hiland, said Schenk, who is the newest member of the Board of Health.
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or at [email protected]