With the coronavirus pandemic persevering with to grip the town, a senior chief on the Boston Public Well being Fee is finishing up her duties remotely from greater than 5,000 miles away.
The NBC10 Investigators have discovered the fee’s medical director, Dr. Jennifer Lo, relocated together with her household to Hawaii in November 2020.
Lo remained in her place at BPHC, and has labored remotely over the winter, advising the fee throughout a wave of recent COVID-19 infections over the vacations, and the launch this month of Boston’s first mass vaccination clinic on the Reggie Lewis Observe and Athletic Heart in Roxbury.
Have a tip for the NBC10 Boston Investigators? E-mail us at to [email protected].
Whereas hundreds of thousands have adopted distant work routines through the pandemic, six authorities in well being and medication who spoke with NBC10 consider the medical director’s bodily absence throughout a public well being emergency might hamper her effectiveness.
Atyia Martin, a former director of catastrophe preparedness for the well being fee, stated she was shocked to study metropolis officers licensed the medical director to work from 5 time zones away, given the urgency of the pandemic.
Martin, a member of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, has advocated for extra testing within the metropolis, and for fairness to be prioritized within the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
“We’re in what quantities to the Tremendous Bowl of emergencies,” she stated. “It’s exhausting to think about that key members of the crew aren’t there within the recreation bodily to play.”
The medical director stories on to the manager director, and is a member of BPHC’s senior management crew.
Her duties embrace making certain employees talk about points similar to medical apply, coverage improvement and new initiatives, based on a earlier job posting.
Lo additionally advises the fee on medical coverage points, oversees the standard of medical packages and serves as a liaison to hospitals, public well being faculties, medical establishments and institutional overview boards, based on the job posting.
Lo was employed for the place in April 2018. She beforehand served as medical director on the Larger Roslindale Medical and Dental Heart, and as household crew medical director at Boston Well being Take care of the Homeless Applications, based on an announcement launched by the town on the time.
In an e mail assertion, Lo instructed NBC10 she and her husband made the troublesome resolution to briefly relocate to Hawaii for private causes, together with to be nearer to household.
“As a doctor and public well being skilled, I’ve been on the entrance line and deeply concerned in Boston’s efforts to manage the pandemic inside our neighborhood,” the assertion reads. “For private causes, together with to assist each units of our getting older mother and father, my husband and I needed to make the troublesome resolution to briefly relocate our household in November 2020 to be nearer to them.
“Along with the transfer, I supplied to resign my place as Medical Director and return to the personal sector as a practising doctor,” the assertion continues. “Nonetheless, BPHC decided I’d have the ability to successfully proceed my work remotely whereas sustaining the identical degree of obligations required on this position.”
Lo added she intends to return to Massachusetts this summer season, saying she values BPHC as a company and employer, and is pleased with its efforts through the pandemic, and of its push to fight racism and different types of oppression.
“The work we’ve finished for the Metropolis during the last 12 months relative to the COVID-19 pandemic has been troublesome and very taxing – but additionally extremely rewarding to work with such a devoted crew on such a essential subject,” Lo stated.
Lo continues to work 4 days per week for the town, the identical schedule she held earlier than her transfer, and she or he’s anticipated to be out there from at the least 9 a.m. to five p.m. Japanese Time on these days, based on the fee’s interim govt director, Rita Nieves.
In an interview, Nieves defended her resolution to authorize the distant work association, saying Lo can fulfill her duties from any location, and that she mentioned the choice with different metropolis leaders earlier than approving it.
Nieves added that filling the job hasn’t been simple. It took the fee about one 12 months to discover a certified candidate for medical director final time the job was out there, she stated.
The job requires a license to apply medication, and likewise a sophisticated diploma in both public administration or public well being, with particular experience in areas similar to well being fairness, medical high quality enchancment, main care and well being care financing.
“I had to decide on between that and never having a medical director,” Nieves stated, referring to the director’s transfer to Hawaii. “And at this level within the pandemic response, to me, that was unacceptable.”
Nieves stated she is not conscious of every other BPHC workers who’re working remotely outdoors of New England.
Manny Lopes, who chairs Boston’s Board of Well being, praised Lo’s job efficiency whereas working outdoors the state.
“Though I’m not concerned in any staffing selections as a part of my position as chair of the Boston Public Well being Fee, I used to be conscious that Dr. Lo had a household scenario in Hawaii,” reads an announcement he supplied to NBC10. “Dr. Lo has been capable of do her job remotely and has carried out in addition to she at all times has to fulfill the wants of the Boston neighborhood. We’re grateful to her for her continued efforts to guard, protect, and promote the well being and well-being of Boston residents.”
The mayor’s cupboard chief, Marty Martinez, who oversees the well being fee, was additionally clued in on the choice. We reached out to him for remark, however he deferred to the well being fee’s response.
Dr. Artwork Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York College’s Langone Medical Heart, stated he believes the well being fee ought to have explored options to fill the medical director’s position on the bottom – particularly as workers work lengthy hours on public well being campaigns.
“In the midst of an epidemic, a plague, you wish to be sure that your management is de facto there engaged on the entrance strains,” he stated, “not 1000’s of miles away.”
Martin, the previous BPHC director, agreed the setup might damage morale.
“A part of the position of management is to let people know that I’m in it with you,” she stated. “And it communicates one thing completely different when it’s distant. No matter intention.”