Addressing problems that Town Hall has had for years as New Canaan has fallen behind surrounding towns, officials said last week that the municipality is finally switching over to a system where residents and business owners can apply for, purchase and receive various permits online. New Canaan Health Director Jenn Eielson for about six months has served as co-project manager to phase in a new platform that’s expected to start a test phase Nov. 1, she said at Thursday’s regular meeting of the Health & Human Services Commission. “We’re excited about that,” Eielson said of the OpenGov Permitting & Licensing platform during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “That’s for all the various different health permits—restaurants, salons, wells, septic, pools,” she continued.
Town officials are weighing a $400,000 allocation of federal funds for a well-established local nonprofit organization that provides healthcare services to seniors. The Board of Selectmen voted 2-0 last week in favor of recommending the American Rescue Plan Act funds for Waveny LifeCare Network’s “telemedicine” initiative. The initiative has already been shown to address a rising need in healthcare in town, Waveny’s president and CEO, Russ Barksdale Jr., told the selectmen during their April 5 meeting. “An investment in telemedicine today will give New Canaan a tremendous advantage in managing any future public health crisis, by providing a daily tracking and disease management program with a proven record to enhance timeliness and quality of care,” Barksdale said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Selectman Nick Williams voted 2-0 in favor of the recommendation.
Mask-wearing, after serving as the first line of defense during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, now serves as the second line of defense behind vaccines, according to the chair of the New Canaan Health & Human Services Commission.
A topic of much debate in New Canaan, the masks “are still important,” according to Dr. Harrison Pierce, a local pediatrician for more than four decades,
“We know how they function,” Pierce said during the Commission’s regular meeting Thursday, held via videoconference. “They filter the droplets, the aerosol, and they do this with varying degrees of efficiency,” from cloth masks to surgical masks and N-95 masks. “If you are uninfected and you are wearing a mask, you decrease the risk of getting COVID by about 67%, and if you are infected and wearing one you decrease of giving it to others by about 75%,” Pierce said. “And if you are both wearing it there is about a 92% decreased risk of getting sick with COVID.”
The comments came during a a discussion on mask-wearing that Pierce said he added to the appointed body’s agenda after hearing from State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142nd) and Commissioner Jenn Hladick on whether the Commission had a position with respect to masks.
The issue has made headlines recently, as Gov. Ned Lamont has asked the state legislature to extend his executive powers, including with respect to an order in which the governor empowers the Department of Public Health commissioner to set rules about what types of buildings require mask-wearing (including schools). In New Canaan, parents have spoken out at recent Board of Education meetings, and the school board is scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday, in part to vote on whether to send a letter to Lamont and others in Hartford requesting “local control” in COVID-related decision-making.
An appointed body that oversees New Canaan’s Health and Human Services departments should be doing more to help the town set priorities on spending what remains of $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, its members say. The Town Council last month approved about $2 million in “ARPA” spending, including allocations for “premium pay” for school and town workers, greenlink sidewalks, year-round public bathrooms, a generator and marketing. Yet the Health and Human Services Commission “should be giving more assistance and support to our elected officials on priority funding,” Russ Barksdale Jr., a member of the Commission, said at its Jan. 6 meeting. “I did not see any priority funding given to our local or town Health Department, as an example,” Barksdale said at the meeting, held via videoconference.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said Thursday that he had received complaints regarding Emergency Management Director Mike Handler’s conduct prior to seeking his resignation. Asked during a press briefing what was the issue that led to Handler’s ouster, Moynihan said, “Respect.”
“Respect for co-employees,” he said during the briefing, held via videoconference.
Health officials “among others” had lodged complaints, Moynihan said. Asked what were the nature of the complaints, he said, “You can’t crush other people and expect them to work as colleagues.”
The sudden news of Handler’s resignation, made Wednesday at Moynihan’s request, traveled quickly through the community and drew strong reactions. On social media, many have voiced concerns about the dismissal of a volunteer who has been in regular communication with residents on town-wide outcalls during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Asked during the briefing about feedback saying Handler’s resignation is regrettable given how much he has done for the town, Moynihan replied, “It’s regrettable that his conduct caused it, so you have to put the blame where it belongs.”
Yet it remains unclear just what Handler did, how his conduct merited pushing him out of an Emergency Operations Center that he himself helped steer during the ice storm of December 2008 or whether complaints about him amounted to a pretext for his dismissal. In a statement issued late Wednesday, Moynihan said Handler’s job was to “coordinate and communicate as the ‘voice’ of the EOC, but not as the ultimate decision maker,” adding, “Throughout any crisis, and especially during this pandemic emergency, decisions must be made after thoughtful and respectful discussion and debate.”
Asked during the briefing what decisions Handler had made or attempted to make that weren’t in his purview as emergency management director, Moynihan said he never asserted such.
In an email sent to EOC members Wednesday morning that was obtained by NewCanaanite.com, Moynihan said that he asked Handler to step down “due to a disagreement over his handling of the Covid testing and his treatment of staff and other personnel.”
Moynihan opened Thursday’s briefing by complaining about an article breaking news of Handler’s ouster based on that email.