Town part of a consortium to address hoarding
The Tewksbury Board of Health met last night with all members present.
The board first addressed keeping of animals by Michele and Giuseppina Saladino of 175 Kendall Rd.
In December, the board continued a hearing of noncompliance related to a 2019 order from the health department that rescinded an animal permit at the property and required that structures be taken down. Health Director Shannon Gillis stated at that December meeting that, in her opinion, the property was now in compliance. As a result, the Saladinos have been approved to keep 12 chickens, though, according to Gillis, the flock will live in the garage until a new coop can be constructed.
Gillis said that the town will transition to OpenGov permitting software on March 6; she points out that residents will then be able to submit applications online and easily check the status of their business with the town.
“We can respond to applicants right then and there,” said Gillis. “They can email us and ask questions as well. They can submit payment online. So it should be more user friendly. “
Finally, she informed the board that the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety has released a new Building Code effective Jan. 2023.
Town Nurse Ashley Pavlakos and Christina Hess, outreach coordinator for the Tewksbury Senior Center, addressed the problem of hoarding.
Tewksbury has had its share of high-profile hoarding situations. In 2019, A&E filmed an episode of “Hoarders” in town, focusing on three local men with the disorder. There was also a recent case of animal hoarding last February, where dozens of deceased cats were found in a home.
To help address such problems going forward, Tewksbury has become part of a hoarding resource group, which hopes to remove the stigma around hoarding disorder.
“Words really do matter,” said Pavlakos.
Hoarding is defined as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value, along with other criteria. It causes significant distress or impairment. While cleanouts may be necessary to preserve public safety, they can be traumatizing, causing the same PTSD levels as a natural disaster.
The new Multi-Town Hoarding Disorder Resource Network’s mission statement is to destigmatize the disorder and to safely keep people in their homes; the network includes the towns of Acton, Bedford, Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsborough and Westford. Pavlakos said collaboration not only provides a greater chance of grant funding but encourages collaborative problem solving.
Member Bob Scarano asked about an advocacy group.
“People don’t want to speak to people that have, let’s say, education, superior knowledge,” said Scarano. “That’s why I was wondering if there’s an advocacy program out there that would help break down the barriers.”
Chair Ray Barry pointed out that it’s a multifaceted problem.
“In all cases, the person that has the hoarding issue, they have to be willing to accept help,” said Barry. “You committed to do massive cleanup, but that’s not fixing the underlying issue, that’s just fixing the visible piece. Then everyone can walk away saying, ‘Oh, I feel better, at least they have a more livable condition,’ but it didn’t address the root of the problem.”
For more information or if they need assistance, residents can call the Health Department at 978-640-4470 to reach Pavlakos, contact Hess at 978-640-4480 x 290 or reach out to the Animal Control officer at 978-640-4395.
Pavlakos also called out the state’s new Behavioral Health Help Line (BHHL), which is available 24/7, 365 days per year for all residents by calling or texting 833-773-2445.
The BHHL connects individuals and families to the full range of treatment services for mental health and substance use offered in Massachusetts, including outpatient, urgent and immediate crisis care. The BHHL is staffed by clinicians and certified peer specialists, and every call, text or chat conversation includes follow-up by trained clinicians. Staff will remain on the line with you until you are connected to the help you or a loved one needs.
The BHHL is free and available in more than 200 languages. Individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing can also use the BHHL by contacting MassRelay at 711. Learn more.
Finally, member Melissa Braga read a statement calling out Barry and this publication. The statement read in part:
“So during last month’s Board of Health meeting, held on January 19, it was announced that we would have a credible speaker from Massachusetts Safe Technology speak on the topic of wireless technology risks and safer solutions. That speaker was scheduled to appear this evening. On February third, the Chair of the Board of Health requested this informative session be canceled. Based on discussions I had with Mr. Chair, his decision to remove the speaker came after he was contacted by a writer of the local newspaper, The Tewksbury Carnation, on her opposition and expression of disfavor with the topic.”
As background, the Carnation published a story on last month’s Board of Health meeting that pointed out that the “credible speaker” Braga referred to, Cece Doucette, has no medical, engineering or scientific credentials. The Massachusetts for Safe Technology group, which has no affiliation with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and does not list on its website any scientific or medical professionals on staff — or, in fact, any staff at all — operates under the 501(c)3 umbrella of the “Scientific Alliance For Education,” which reported $150 in assets in its most recent IRS filing.
After that story was published, Doucette shared a number of articles on local social media accounts but did not respond to a query about who is funding her work, website or speaking engagements, given no discernable income or assets for the umbrella 501(c)3.
This writer, and Tewksbury taxpayer, did express to Barry disappointment that the Tewksbury Board of Health would be used as a vector for disinformation and shared data from the FCC. The Carnation stands behind that story and communication.
In summary, the information forwarded to Barry cited Ajit Pai, who was appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission by the Trump Administration. Pai stated in 2019 that after more than six years of public input and extensive review, the agency determined “in close consultation with the Food and Drug Administration and other health agencies that the current exposure levels for cell phones, wireless towers, Wi-Fi routers and all other devices emitting RF signals are safe. Agency officials added that they don’t have any concern for new gear using 5G technology, including gear that uses millimeter wavelength frequencies.”
In response to Braga’s concern that interested residents have the opportunity to hear from Doucette, Barry suggested convening a program in an appropriate venue.
“I think having something at the library where there can be more of a free flow of conversation between attendees and the presenter is going to be most beneficial because our meetings are not structured to have people ask questions,” said Barry.