May 6, 2021 by Hilary Jenison (courtesy photos)
This week, we continue our Candidate Question series leading up to the May 22 Town Election. The Anchor is featuring a series of questions for each of the competitive election races, including Light Board, Board of Assessors, Board of Health, Town Clerk, and Select Board.
We hope voters will carefully read the responses to understand each candidate better and help inform their decision-making at the polls. You can find more information about the local election, including candidate announcements and profiles, on our Local Elections page.
This week, we connected with Johanna Burwell and Peter Bickford, who are both running for a seat on the Board of Health.
Anchor Question: The physical impact of COVID-19 is something that is tangible and people can identify and treat. The mental impact is more difficult to assess, especially in our younger population. What are some of the steps or programs you would like to see the town implement in order to identify and address the mental/emotional impact of the pandemic?
Response from Johanna Burwell, Candidate for Board of Health:
My 13-year-old son and I contracted COVID-19 this past January. At the time, we were both lamenting the loss of our pre-COVID life. But, once we had firsthand experience of COVID-19, including an overnight hospital stay for me, we quickly became grateful for the social distancing and precautions we had been observing.
Having been a nurse for over 20 years, what I know is that when you ask someone to make a sacrifice for their health or the health of their loved ones, you must clearly communicate the risks and rewards of that sacrifice, and provide resources to help everyone come through it whole.
If elected, the first thing I would work on as a member of the Board of Health is creating and distributing educational information on how to access mental health resources in the pandemic era, including suicide and abuse hotline numbers, and help finding local therapists and social workers, physicians, and community organizations dedicated to specific needs (AA, Al-Anon, etc.)
Coming out of this pandemic, we need to be proactive as a community to ensure everyone is aware of the resources that can help, and I believe that the Board of Health is in the perfect position to do just that. We must meet people where they are, provide information in an inclusive, easily digestible format, and take care to raise awareness of issues people may be facing, as well as resources that can help.
We are all in this together, but some of us may be suffering more than others and may not know help is available. As a community, we have a responsibility to ensure everyone has access to available resources, and as a member of the Board of Health, I would make it my mission. Through social media outreach, and timely town website updates, community forums and information sessions, we can begin to address the mental and emotional health of all our residents not only during the pandemic but at all times.
Response from Peter Bickford, Candidate for Board of Health:
As a current member of Hingham’s Board of Health, I plan to enhance the actions this group has taken throughout the pandemic and create municipal partnerships to collectively address the mental health impacts of Covid-19.
Firstly, the Board of Health is interviewing for a twenty hours per week licensed social worker to help with any negative effects associated with the pandemic. I would like to expand on some of the duties to directly help citizens improve their mental well-being as a result of Covid-19. In particular, I would like attention placed on younger generations who are struggling socially and emotionally, since negative mental health impacts in this group are feared to be long-lasting. I will continue coordinating with other divisions of town government, such as the School Board, to ensure that we are aware of existing issues and can proactively address emerging ones through this position.
Secondly, the Board of Health can create municipal partnerships to collaborate and share information amongst communities. For example, our Executive Health Officer has been in contact with the Mass Health Officer Association to coordinate regional opportunities and learn how to address mental health issues resulting from the pandemic. The Town of Hingham is not alone in the fight against Covid-19 and its lasting effects. Having open conversations with our neighbors will be an important step for us and the South Shore to learn, collaborate, and collectively mitigate the negative mental health effects our residents are experiencing.
With all of the town’s departments and neighboring municipalities communicating, coordinating actions, and staying resilient, the Town of Hingham will be an even stronger community and we will eventually get through this all together.