Thursday August 30, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The chairman of the Board of Health and the director of the Health Department have both resigned, citing professional and personal reasons, respectively.

As of Friday, Dr. Philip Adamo is no longer leading the board due to the demands of his new job in Worcester. Since April, Adamo has been medical director for the University of Massachusetts Memorial Healthcare Systems and Medical School.

Meanwhile after one year on the job, Merridith A. O'Leary has stepped down as the city's health director for a similar position in Northampton starting Tuesday. O'Leary says she switched employers mainly because the one-hour commute from her Southampton home -- 10 minutes from Northampton -- was affecting her family life. Her final day at City Hall was last Friday.

Assistant health director Cory Nicholas is the interim director until the board completes its search for O'Leary's successor. Board member Bobbi Orsi is serving as acting chairwoman of the five-member Board of Health.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is charged with finding Adamo's replacement. It's a mayoral appointment subject to City Council approval. Adamo was chairman during his entire eight years on the board.

Adamo said he submitted his resignation to the mayor in mid-July, citing the career change. Adamo closed his Pittsfield medical practice in March, prior to assuming his new duties with UMass Memorial Healthcare Systems.

"It was a decision I had to make because of a lot of commitment to my current job," he said. "I started to find myself barely making it to board meetings on time."

Adamo denies his role in the methadone clinic controversy played a part in his leaving the board.

"Absolutely not, totally unrelated," he said. "The Board of Health had nothing to do with Spectrum."

In June, Spectrum Healthcare Systems had targeted a building Adamo had co-owned on Stoddard Avenue for its proposed clinic. Adamo said the property at 15-17 Stoddard Ave. was sold two weeks ago to another buyer.

A firestorm of neighborhood opposition to the location led Spectrum and the city to an agreement allowing the facility to be on the second floor of the Berkshire Nautilus building on Summer Street. The deal was part of the city's $100,000 settlement with the Worcester-based company, Bianchi announced nearly three weeks ago. He stated the payment was for the city attempting to illegally block a building permit for Spectrum when it attempted to establish the clinic in Pittsfield last year.

O'Leary, married with three daughters, the oldest starting college this fall, said she struggled deciding between the somewhat distant job and raising a family. O'Leary tendered her resignation on Aug. 8

"It was a very difficult decision to make because I love Pittsfield " she said in a phone interview from her home. "I loved the staff I had at City Hall. In the last six months, we moved forward on a number of initiatives."

One such initiative, O'Leary noted, is the ongoing screening of city residents for diabetes which she considers a major public health issue.

Adamo praised O'Leary, her predecessor James J. Wilusz and the current board for tackling other concerns such as blight, youth smoking and body art.

"We found working with people impacted directly by these issues was the best way to approach the problem," he said.

O'Leary was the chief sanitarian for the Holyoke Health Department when the board hired her to when Wilusz left in May 2011. Wilusz left to become the director for the Tri-Town Health Department, which serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.

The Pittsfield position currently comes with a salary of $54,500.

The health director is responsible for managing the city's Health Department duties, including inspections of restaurants, lodging facilities and septic systems. In addition, city health officials investigate food and water-borne illnesses, nuisances such as illegal curbside trash, and promote wellness though a variety of programs such as tobacco awareness and healthy housing.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.