Public Health Nurse Mary Connolly

Mary Connolly, RN., will lead the city’s new Department of Public Health.

HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini has tasked the city’s new Department of Public Health with addressing what he calls the “twindemic” of COVID-19 and the opioid crisis.

Fiorentini appointed Public Health Nurse Mary Connolly to lead the new department, which will include a new public health nurse, an administrative assistant and a social/outreach worker.

The idea is to provide a new level of health services to the community such as expanding wellness checks beyond what is currently offered and providing assistance for a range of health-related services that residents may not know how to access.

The mayor told the City Council when it met Tuesday night that more than 11,000 residents have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 112 residents have died from the virus.

“We have a second pandemic in Haverhill and that’s the opioid crisis,” he said. “We lose about 20 people a year to this.”

He said he has tasked the new department of public health to address these two crisis situations in addition to other health concerns.

The mayor included salaries for the new department in this year’s budget, with the support of the city council.

For the past 10 years, Connolly has worked as a part-time Council on Aging Nurse and part-time Public Health Nurse, but will now lead the new department while continuing to serve in both capacities. She is stationed at the Citizens Center, where the new department will be based.

Connolly said the new public health nurse will start after the first of the year, an administrative assistant began recently and a social/outreach worker, who Connolly said is bilingual and bicultural and recently received her degree in public health, is expected to begin her job in a few weeks.

The department plans to work with other communities on how to address the opioid crisis a plan of action must still be devised, Connolly said.

As the city experiences an increase in COVID-19 cases, vaccination clinics are continuing weekly at the Citizens Center and the state plans to bring a booster shot clinic to the city, Connolly said, noting the severity of illness from COVID-19 is not as bad among vaccinated people as it is among unvaccinated people.

“We will be working closely with Community Action on our social and outreach work and plan to have our new worker hold office hours at the Citizens Center,” she said.

Councilor Thomas Sullivan noted the demand for booster shots is growing amidst fear of new variants of the virus and that people are having to wait two to three weeks for an appointment.

“I think the state is behind the eight ball and have not been proactive as they have been and I think we’re wasting time when we should be ramping up clinics right away,” he said.

Connolly said a booster clinic held on Thursday at the Citizens Center was filled with 300 people who registered in advance.

“I reached out to the department of public health and they are going to bring a clinic in on Dec. 13 and will do an additional booster clinic for us,” she said, adding there are various pop-up clinics, including by the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.

Connolly said that in addition to vaccine supply issues, there are also vaccine shipping issues.

“I do agree we need to work harder with the department of public health to bring more clinics to town, along with what we’re doing at the Citizens Center,” she said.

The city plans to add more contact tracers in an effort to notify those who may have come in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

“We currently contract with the state but the contract is running out so the state is giving us money to do our own contact tracing,” the mayor said.

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