A volunteer-based emergency response team in Nashua, which has handled a number of public health responsibilities during the pandemic, recently stood down because of unmet safety concerns.
The Greater Nashua Community Emergency Response Team, a group of about 100 volunteers, recently notified Mayor Jim Donchess that it would not resume service until liability and safety concerns are resolved.
“The issues at heart are about unsafe conditions that have been created at testing clinics … we are deeply disappointed in our city and mayor for not taking actions on these items, which clearly have put city employees, volunteers and the general public at risk,” the CERT command staff wrote in its letter.
Bill Lincoln, program manager, said in the letter that CERT has been deployed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to set up and take down the alternate care site at Nashua High School South, as well as manage supply logistics. It also has assisted with COVID-19 testing clinics throughout the city.
“During COVID testing, a number of liability, risk and safety issues arose, which led this CERT team to temporarily stand down until resolved. As you should be aware, those issues seem to have gone unanswered and also led to the resignation of more than one paid individual from public health,” Lincoln states in the letter.
Mark Munroe, the city’s former public health emergency preparedness coordinator, who was charged with overseeing CERT, left his position this past summer.
“I had major safety concerns that were continuously ignored. I had attempted numerous times to address these vital concerns with the director, only to be told to continue on with unsafe conditions,” Munroe said last week.
According to the CERT command staff, a CERT member almost had to be transported to the hospital during a July 9 testing clinic but was told that the city does not cover CERT members for workers’ comp.
Stacy Burek, a per diem nurse working with the city’s public health department and helping run the testing clinics, also filed a complaint with the mayor in August about similar concerns.
Several suggestions were made to Bobbie Bagley, director of public health, to move the July 9 testing site into a parking garage after the heat index topped 105 degrees, according to Burek, who said she made the decision to proceed with the outside clinic.
“During the July 9 clinic, several staff members and members of CERT were sent home due to early symptoms of heat exhaustion,” Burek wrote.
The clinics were eventually moved into the parking garage at Elm Street, but two other clinics proceeded in August with heat indexes over 100 degrees despite requests to cancel, she wrote.
Burek did not return an email seeking additional comment.
“All I can say at this point is that we are working with the city to resolve the open issues and have resolved several already,” Lincoln said last week.
When asked whether CERT is still standing down, Lincoln said, “We are still working toward resolution of the insurance issue.”
He referred additional questions to Kim Kleiner, administrative services director for the city.
If CERT, which has been in operation since 2013 in Nashua, is asked to deploy tomorrow, Kleiner said she believes the group would respond.
“We will resolve any issues that they have. They are very important to the city,” she said last week. “We have been working with Bill and his team. There have been some areas of concern that have been discussed.”
In its letter to the mayor, command staff wrote, “CERT should be used for emergency response purposes only, not as staff augmentation.”
The letter also asked that the city:
- address, in writing, risk and liability for CERT that protects the city from liability and covers volunteers in the event of litigation or harm;
- address the situation that has created major and ongoing safety concerns and a hostile work environment within the public health department be addressed;
- have a discussion about transferring CERT to another city agency, such as the police department or fire department;
- clarify the role, responsibilities and command structure during an activation;
- highlight the ground rules under which CERT will be called to action and when CERT can respond.