Dr. Harrison Pierce Re-Elected Chair of Health & Human Services Commission


Members of an advisory town body that helps oversee New Canaan’s Health and Human Services Departments last week re-elected a prominent retired pediatrician as their chair.

Dr. Harrison Pierce at Dunning Stadium for the Turkey Bowl, on Nov. 24, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

Dr. Harrison Pierce, who took on the role of chairing the Health & Human Services Commission weeks amid some controversy and weeks prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, was unanimously re-elected at the appointed body’s Jan. 5 meeting.

Asked by Commissioner Peter Campbell to discuss his priorities for the next year, Pierce said the group would “continue pretty much as we are,” while also noting that the Commission also was seeking to define its role.

“I know there are some varying sentiments,” Pierce said at the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “I think some people maybe feel a little frustrated that we are not doing more than we are doing. The reality is that when I first came on board I thought that I would be doing more with the Commission. But I think if we go through this discussion, we will see that the role of the Commission is to provide oversight and advice and we’re somewhat limited as to what we can do going forward.”

Commission Secretary Alyssa MacKenzie and members Campbell, Tom Ferguson, Jim Lisher, Russ Barksdale, Alicia Meyer and Barb Achenbaum voted in favor of his re-election. 

MacKenzie also was unanimously re-elected as secretary during the meeting. The organizational portion of the meeting was overseen by First Selectman Kevin Moynihan.

The first selectman thanked Pierce for his service, calling him the “right guy at the right time for COVID” and saying he valued the pediatrician’s advice.

Pierce has received wide praise from Health Department staff members for his work during the pandemic, including time he has taken to help run vaccine clinics for children. Together with Health Director Jenn Eielson, Pierce has helped advise town agencies as well as New Canaan Public Schools regarding its policies during COVID-19. He has consistently advocated in favor of policies regarding mask-wearing, even in the face of opposition from some in town. 

Barksdale said that the recent months have been “really exciting for the Commission.”

“As long as we are still focusing on setting priorities and having more of a leadership role—as compared to sitting here and listening through presentations and not having an active discussion that we’ve had in the last couple of months, I think have been worthwhile,” Barksdale said.

“And it’s hard when we’re limited to only the last 10 minutes to having an open discussion about setting priorities and setting recommendations to the Town Council, to the Board Selectmen,” he continued. “I think as long as we are moving in that direction, speaking for myself, I think that would be a very, very positive change that we could make in enhancing our mission, if you will. Our Charter is set out but I can’t remember the last time that we had a formal presentation to the Board of Selectmen in terms of us all voting together.” 

Barksdsale said that “rubber-stamping the same donations every single year without setting priorities is something that I would like to see changed going forward” while also noting that it’s difficult to make time as an all-volunteer group.

“We are all putting in an extraordinary time and reading and effort preparing for our meetings,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *