Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is changing how the Public Health Commission fits into Boston’s city government (boldface mine):
This week, Walsh named former city councilor Felix G. Arroyo as chief of a consolidated Health and Human Services Department. Walsh’s current plan calls for the city’s quasi-independent Public Health Commission to be part of the new department under Arroyo’s oversight.
Arroyo, a former opponent in the preliminary election, helped Walsh to victory in the final. He’s a good fit for the part of the portfolio that focuses on city services to Boston’s youth, elderly, and disabled residents. And Arroyo might even be the guy to solve the longstanding problem of erratic quality at the city’s community and recreational centers. But public health — which includes the city’s emergency medical response function — is a highly specialized field that involves training in epidemiology, biostatistics, health delivery systems, pandemics, clinical operations, surveillance of emergency room data, and much more.
The Walsh camp originally indicated that public health director Barbara Ferrer would report to Arroyo under the new department structure. That was concerning. Whatever Arroyo’s skills, he doesn’t hold a doctorate in public health or boast extensive training in the discipline. Ferrer, however, does.
On Wednesday, Walsh clarified the matter. He said that Ferrer would not be reporting to Arroyo on day-to-day matters. But it is likely that Arroyo would represent the overall interests of the Public Health Commission in a retooled and downsized cabinet structure.
Restructuring City Hall is Walsh’s business. But the last thing the city needs is another layer of bureaucracy in the event of an emergency.
For the record, I voted for Arroyo in the primary (and Walsh in the general), so I think Arroyo will do a great job on the service delivery side of things. But public health should be independent and have more immediate access to the mayor in an emergency. Expertise and experience really does matter.
Not sure this is a good decision by Walsh.