Healthcare workers are heroes of COVID-19 pandemic, nine of these tireless heroes are at chesprocott health district
Compiled by Dan Nowak
CDTC Communications Staff
(Special thanks to the Chesprocott staff for supplying the content and photos for this feature)
CHESHIRE--Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Connecticut, healthcare workers and first responders statewide have been working tirelessly to keep us all healthy and safe.
The staff at Chesprocott Health District, which serves Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott, is no different and has been on that COVID-19 front line from the beginning. Their primary goal has been to keep us all safe and share information with the public whenever they can despite doing it all with a limited staff of nine.
Each staff member has their important role to play in the local health environment, working many hours each day and juggling multiple issues on each of their plates. Plans for a typical work day are often interrupted with breaking situations that need their immediate attention.
These are some of our local healthcare heroes and you can find them at the Chesprocott facility on Route 10 in Cheshire.
As a way to say thank you for their effort to keep us all safe and healthy, read their bios and personal COVID-19 experiences below as we.....
MEET THE STAFF OF CHESPROCOTT HEALTH DISTRICT
MAURA ESPOSITO, MPH, RS
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: Director of Health 6 years; Sanitarian 8 years.
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Oversee a municipal health department for three communities (Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott). We must comply with the “10 Essential Public Health Services” mandated by Centers of Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/publichealthgateway/publichealthservices/essentialhealthservices.html
To address these services, I manage the Division Leads of three distinct divisions (Environmental Health, Community Health and Emergency Preparedness). These divisions have distinct job responsibilities but frequently overlap each other to meet the public health need.
I report to the Chesprocott Board of Directors (6) which represent each community. One representative per 10,000 population. We meet Eight times a year or more if needed, to review the health districts work, goals, and objectives to insure we are meeting the 10 Essential Services.
My day varies based on the needs of the day. I am a State of Connecticut Registered Sanitarian and hold licenses to review Engineered Septic plans and review Septic repairs. I am also licensed to conduct Food Service Inspections and I hold licenses to review and inspect Lead Paint renovations and investigations. I have held these licenses for over 25 years. So, I can assist the Sanitarians when needed and can provide them guidance as I’ve worked in this field for many years.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: COVID has impacted my job, my team, my workspace and my family and my life. As the Director of Health I am required to work 24/7. Outbreaks don’t follow the 9-5 work schedule so when this pandemic was approaching, I knew exactly what I had to do. As the lead health district for Region 2 (New Haven County) and as the past Co-Chairman of Region 2 Health Care Coalition and an active member of Essential Service Function 8 (Hospital, Local Health and EMS) we meet, drill and exercise for these scenarios all year round with all our regional partners. My position tasks shifted from daily health department operations to full scale Emergency Operations Lead as this was a Public Health Emergency. As the leader of this pandemic my role included working with all three municipal Emergency Management Directors of the three municipalities to assess the health needs of each community. The outbreak increased our communication with all our health care partners during the early phases of the outbreak. Luckily we practice call-down notification four times a year with these partners so we work very closely with these partners already. But when this outbreak became a pandemic those relationships strengthened and became more regular. My day consisted of talking to all these partners each day to evaluate their needs and to assist in those obtaining those resources to support those operations.
As you can imagine, my days were long and consisted of sleepless nights as I worried about the situation and obstacles we were faced with. Not having the proper PPE was a huge obstacle in keeping people, staff and rallying volunteers to help support these initiatives became a top priority. Managing social media and using social media became a much needed resource during this pandemic and I have used this to the best of my ability to reach many people in our community.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: I will remember the date: February 27, 2020. This date was when our department went from monitoring the outbreak to a full fledge response effort. This was the day I had to have hard discussions with town leaders and Superintendents of what the implications could have on our communities and what mitigation looked like in the eyes of public health.
The most emotional moment was talking to the brother of our first Covid Death. Providing him the shoulder to talk about the struggles his brother had and how the virus impacted the whole family was very moving.
The worst moment was receiving the text message from a nursing home looking for body bags. Our nursing homes really took the brunt of the cases and outbreak. I had never thought that I would be searching for body bags on a Saturday morning, but I found them. Got them. And delivered them. This was the moment when these death statistics became real. These were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends and neighbors who died a horrible death without their family surrounding them and they deserved some dignity. It was the least I could do. To provide them a simple body bag. Still brings tears to my eyes.
SUSAN BENCIVENGA LONCZAK, RS, MPH
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 5
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Chief Sanitarian – I oversee the environmental division of the department (3 staff). Our department conducts inspections of our local restaurants, salons, public pools and daycares. We perform inspections and issue permits for residential and commercial onsite septic systems and private wells. We respond to a myriad of complaints and provide education and guidance to many sectors of our community on any and all environmental topics. In the summer months, we conduct water sampling of our public bathing water locations to ensure safe swimming. We review plans and complete inspections of all new licensed businesses. As the pandemic has unfolded, every aspect of our jobs has modified. Ninety percent of our work has been Covid related.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: Every day is a different adventure. I’m very accustomed to reading and interpreting codes and regulations; that has always been my specialty. With the pandemic and ever-changing climate, I have had to become an expert on new orders and guidance on an hourly basis. My staff and I have become the trusted source for information for all of our local businesses and members of the community. Although it has made my job incredibly busy and chaotic at times, it has truly helped me appreciate the small differences I’m making to help individuals from all walks of life. Public Health Professionals plan for pandemics, but never had I ever anticipated to see something like this in my lifetime. I’m thankful to have a job that is challenging, rewarding, and allows me to feel like I’m making a difference in my community.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: There are too many memories to share. Every day I speak with people who have Covid-related problems that are directly effecting them, their family, their business. Each conversation is memorable for me. Hearing a person’s sign of relief after helping them figure out what to do next, just being thanked for listening to them – the small differences I make in a person’s day have made the biggest impact on my job and my spirits during this challenging time.
MELISSA SORICELLI, RS
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 2 Years and 2 months
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Registered Sanitarian- Provides consultant services relating to environmental health and code compliance problems; advises property and business owners of violations and methods of correction. Plans and conducts routine environmental health and housing code compliance inspections and investigations to determine the existence of problems or violations and their causes. Conducts and investigates environmental complaints regarding but not limited to housing, garbage and rubbish disposal, rodent and insect infestations, noise, air and water quality, disease vectors, mosquito control, lead paint, unsanitary environmental conditions and food or water-borne diseases.
Initiates enforcement proceedings in connection with documented environmental health and housing code violations.
Instructs establishments inspected on procedures necessary to ensure proper sanitation and maintain compliance with codes, regulation and requirements. Conducts field inspections at various sites including, but not limited to food service establishments, dwellings, boarding rooms, hotels, day care centers, and public swimming pools to determine compliance with code and/or licensing regulations and requirements. May conduct plan reviews for new and renovated food service establishments and public swimming pools. Assists with B100a application reviews and recommends approval/denial of such.
Collects samples and specimens for laboratory analysis and performs field tests with a variety of environmental health equipment.
Reviews laboratory and other reports related to environmental samples/testing and initiates action resulting from such reports in accordance with established protocols.
Issues citations, violation letters, and municipal notices of violation. Also, assists in the preparation of local Director of Health orders/notices of violation as necessary to ensure public health and safety. Inspects, performs soil tests, and makes recommendations for corrective action to be taken concerning individual water supply and septic system disposal systems. Conducts soil tests, reviews engineered and non-engineered plans.
Collects, under prescribed methods, samples of water from swimming pools, wells, community supplies and other areas, and offers recommendations relative to the protection and disinfection of individual water supplies. Monitors amendments of regulatory entities and maintains current knowledge of industry standards. Maintains statistical records of program activities and prepares reports and correspondence.
Responds by telephone, in person, or in writing to persons seeking information regarding health rules and regulations, specific complaints, license requirements, and other environmental health concerns. PEPPER IN ALL ASPECTS OF COVID-19
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: We are busier than ever. Overwhelmed in all aspects of the job yet grateful to have been working throughout this entire pandemic.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: I never thought that I would have to deliver body bags to a facility due to Covid-19 deaths.
JULIA BURDACKI, RS
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 4 years
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Registered Sanitarian. Food Inspections, Septic Inspections, New construction and building addition reviews for septic purposes, Salon Inspection, Daycare Inspections, Public pool Inspections, Responding to environmental health complaints.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: Complaints and pool applications have risen. Sanitarians are busy soil testing and reviewing septic system designs for construction projects. In addition to the shift in standard work volume, Sanitarians have spent time distributing PPE and educational materials to food establishments, salons, and other establishments within the District. Sanitarians remain available to assist with community questions and concerns.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: This has been a trying time for the entire community. Continuing to manage stress and the ever changing guidelines remains at the forefront of my thoughts 24/7.
KATE GLENDON, MPH, CHES, CPS
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 2.5
BIO: Kathryn Glendon grew-up in Cheshire, CT. She has her Master’s in Public Health from Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). Kathryn is a Certified Health Educator Specialist and a Certified Prevention Specialist. She is currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health at SCSU. Kathryn has experience in community health promotion, community mobilization, and public health prevention.
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: I am the Public Health Specialist for Chesprocott Health District. My role focuses on improving and maintaining the health and well being of the Cheshire, Prospect, and Wolcott communities. During my time at Chesprocott I have facilitated the Healthy Communities Coalition; hosted community presentations to educate and raise awareness about important public health issues such mental health, substance abuse, physical activity and nutrition, oral health, increasing access to care, and diabetes. Also organize flu clinics where residents of the three towns can receive their flu shot. In addition, I monitor the communicable diseases affecting the Chesprocott communities and report the necessary diseases to the State Department of Public Health. Lastly, I make sure to keep the public up to date and informed through Chesprocott’s social media accounts and any media content.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: My job is devoted to preventing and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Since January 2020, I have been actively participating in webinars and phone calls with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Public Health and with local leaders and organizations. In addition, I conduct interviews with all the COVID-19 positive cases to gather data, and to track and limit the spread of the virus. I manage the Chesprocott Health District’s social media accounts and use these accounts to educate the public about the virus. I make sure to communicate with Long Term Care Facilities and their patients to help address any barriers or issues they are facing, as well as any other COVID-19 related concerns or task that arise.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: There have been many moments of staff supporting each other and learning from each other as the pandemic evolved. We have shared a lot of time together which has helped us become a stronger team.
OLIVIA CHAMBERLAND, MPH
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 1 year
BIO: Olivia Chamberland is the Public Health Regional Emergency Preparedness Coordinator working out of Chesprocott Health District (CHD). Olivia graduated in 2015 from Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) Public Health program with a bachelor degree. She started her career as an intern for Quinnipiack Valley Health District. From there she went on to work for the Wallingford Health Department, and the Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers.
In 2016, she decided to go back to SCSU for a Master of Public Health. During her time in the MPH program, Olivia discovered her passion for public health emergency preparedness and knew it was what she wanted to focus her career path on. In March of 2019 Olivia was hired by the Fairfield Health Department as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator where she was able to work alongside a wonderful team of public health professionals who helped her to improve her skills and foundation in the field. A month after graduating with her MPH Olivia landed the role at CHD and the rest is history.
In her spare time, Olivia enjoys spending time planning her wedding next year to her fiancé, Alex, hanging out with family and friends, and being the best dog mom to her dog Oakley.
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: I am the Public Health Region 2 Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. In my position, I am responsible for coordinating all planning activities, drills, and exercises of the local health departments and districts within New Haven County, to fulfill the deliverables of the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) grant. The PHEP deliverables help build and strengthen public health’s abilities to efficiently and effectively prepare and respond to emergencies that threaten public health such as COVID-19, bioterrorism, as well as natural and man-made disasters.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: COVID-19 has been a challenging experience that I hope to never have to experience again. Before and during this Pandemic, I have assisted in sharing important COVID-19 information, plans, and guidance from the State Department of Public Health (DPH), other Regional Partners, and local agencies with key stakeholders. I also continue to stay up to date on the latest developments and guidelines from the Federal and State level.
In addition, I am responsible for overseeing and coordinating the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the State DPH to the Region’s local health departments. This PPE goes to helping supply local healthcare providers, urgent care centers, primary care physicians, dialysis centers, hospice facilities, home health agencies, and any other community agencies in need of PPE.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: The first day of the PPE delivery to Region 2 from the State DPH. When Maura, and I arrived at the distribution site to pick up the PPE, I remember being in a state of shock that this was really happening. The Connecticut National Guard was unloading and sorting the shipment. There were six pallets waiting for us that consisted of much need supplies such as gloves, masks, gowns, face shields, and more. As we were loading up the truck I turned around towards the street and all I can see is a line of cars from Long Term Care agencies and Assisted Living Facilities, down and around the corner waiting to pick up such critical equipment in fighting this virus. It was truly an eye-opening moment that showed how impactful this virus is.
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 6 months
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Emergency Response Coordinator, I am responsible for planning and coordinating the Health Department response to public health emergencies, such as COVID-19. I also manage the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Grant by ensuring that all grant requirements have been met.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: COVID-19 definitely created a heightened awareness and some stress making sure all plans were in place and ready to be activated if needed. Chesprocott’s staff was tested every day answering questions, making calls for contact tracing, collaborating with municipal and private partners, and getting essential information out to the public. I cannot give our team enough respect for all they did. My specific job, as the Emergency Response Coordinator, with the support of Chesprocott’s staff and our wonderful and invaluable Public Health Volunteers will be put into action if and when a vaccine is ready to be given to the public.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: Being the new kid on the block, it was all memorable. I literally walked in the door and shortly after was met with COVID-19 as my first public health emergency experience. It is part of our mission at Chesprocott Health District, to advise our communities (Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott) to take the steps necessary to stay as healthy and safe as possible and to respond to a public health emergency. I have a first responder background, but to witness and be a member of a local health department team that collaborated with our private and municipal partners to first attempt to contain and then mitigate the health risks, it truly was something to be proud of.
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 6 years 1 month
BIO: Full time single mom who works two jobs to support my daughter.
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Office Manager. Answer and field all phone calls into the office, assist every resident that comes to our office, assist every employee with any questions they have, enter every food, salon, barbershop, nail, and pool inspection conducted, send out all correspondences to residents and licensed facilities, upload and monitor all documents into our online property search database, responsible to manage all office renewals for business operations, responsible for all monetary transactions within the business, responsible for payroll for all employees, responsible for all daily operations of the business.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: We are busier than ever. Our daily environmental operations are still very active, and COVID-19 has increased our call volume tri-fold so handling everyday responsibilities are overwhelming. We are all responding to the needs of the vulnerable populations trying to protect as many as we can.
YEARS AT CHESPROCOTT: 1 year next month
BIO: I graduated from the University of Connecticut in May of 2019 with a degree in Biological Sciences and Political Science. Although my education wasn’t primarily focused on Public Health, as UConn doesn’t have a direct program, it has always been an interest of mine. I was happy to have some exposure to public health when I worked briefly at Chesprocott back in the summer of 2017 and even happier when I was granted a position here full time. I hope to pursue my Masters in Public Health in the near future, once I’ve acquired more experience in the field. In my free time, I enjoy singing and writing music, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.
CHESPROCOTT JOB TITLE-DUTIES: Administrative and EP Assistant. I complete day-to-day tasks within the office, direct phone calls, answer general questions and assist in the Emergency Preparedness department. I also have been in contact with members of our health care community as well as our vulnerable populations to help distribute important protective equipment during the outbreak.
WHAT IMPACT HAS COVID-19 MADE ON YOU IN YOUR JOB: COVID in our district has definitely increased the influx of calls and concerns that we receive. Prior to the outbreak my tasks mostly involved preparedness and are now primarily focused on response. Overall, it has helped me realize the impact that Public Health has on our community and I am grateful to be a part such an integral team.
PERSONALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR JOB, IS THERE A COVID-19 MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT YOU CAN SHARE: When I walked into the office and I saw the first cases in our district were confirmed, things were definitely put in perspective for me. It was really impactful to see their names and understand that our community was being affected.
Esposito: contact tracing a challenge at Chesprocott, some advice if you plan to be in a protest march, planning Phase II reopening
By Dan Nowak
CDTC Communications Staff
CHESHIRE—While local health district departments in Connecticut are still looking for some direction from the state when it comes to initiating COVID-19 contact tracing, officials at Chesprocott Health District, which serves Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott, have initiated their own version of contact tracing.
However, due to a lack of cooperation by some individuals, local contact tracing is a challenge and being done on a limited basis.
“Contact tracing really hasn’t taken off yet statewide,” Chesprocott director Maura Esposito said. “We really need a media campaign to get the message out to the public, so they know what the contact tracing is all about. We have been doing our own contact tracing, but only 50 percent of our own people in the three towns are doing it. We have had some experiences where local people have tested positive, but then they won’t give us the complete information we need to get contact tracing done.
“We had a person who tested positive the day after attending a funeral with 35 other people. With contact tracing, the idea is to get the names of those 35 people so you can contact those people and get other names of the people they have been in contact with recently. But the person who tested positive at the funeral refused to give us the information, the names of the other 35 people at the funeral.”
Esposito had other experiences where contact tracing has been a challenge. Two families decided they wanted to go on a vacation together and now they are all sick with COVID-19. Also, a local restaurant worker has tested positive for COVID-19.
Another concern for Esposito are the vigils and protest marches planned in the area in response to the unfortunate death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Last week there was a public vigil sponsored by the First Congregational Church on the Cheshire Green on Thursday and a protest march from Bartlem Park to Town Hall and back to Bartlem Park on Sunday.
“As much as our confirmed case numbers and hospitalizations are going down in our area, the virus is still there,” Esposito said. “There is still no treatment and your own body has to fight this virus if you get it.
“Irate doctors called me asking to stop the Sunday march, but that isn’t my call. The models are telling us (statewide health district officials) that these protests will produce a bump in virus cases. We are tracking the weekly trends and we are preparing for another spike if there is one. We are asking people who march to be smart and vigilant. Please practice social distancing and wear masks.”
Esposito also has a message for the leaders of protests.
“I am asking the leaders of protests to set the example, an example of safety,” Esposito said. “The Pastor who led the vigil on the Green practiced all the rules with social distancing and a face mask. If the top dogs, the person or people running these protests wear a mask and exercise social distancing, people will follow.”
Officials at Chesprocott continue to have a full plate of items on their daily agenda, especially with Gov. Ned Lamont pushing up Phase II of the state’s reopening plan from June 20 to June 17.
Among those items are planning with local educational and town leaders for potential schools reopening in the fall, planning for day camps at Holiday Hill, and Esposito has been meeting with Cheshire Community Pool Aquatics Director Sheila Adams to discuss the upcoming pool reopening in Phase II.
“My recent meeting went well with Sheila,” Esposito said. “She has put together some guidelines that are very good. We have also met with Elim Park officials to go over reopening plans for its residential section.
“So far the discussions at Elim Park have been good. Since the virus came to Cheshire, the residential side of Elim Park has gone through it very well. Mental health is very important for everyone and the people there need to move around and be social. We are doing everything we can to get them there.”
Esposito said Chesprocott has also been getting a spike in complaints from the public regarding local establishments, which she wasn’t allowed to specifically identify.
“We have been getting complaints about social distancing issues at the restaurants that reopened,” Esposito said. “Most of it involves reassessing space between tables and seating arrangements. We have also been getting complaints when it comes to some of the big grocery stores in the area.
“Our sanitarians have gone to these places to talk to people to make sure employees are doing the right things like washing their hands and wearing masks and gloves.”
Dan Nowak is chairman of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee's Communication Relations/IT Committee, a volunteer position. He is a Cheshire Parks and Recreation Commissioner and has been a sportswriter at the New Haven Register for 36 years.