Lawyer: Mayor won't mix in city health matters

Heather Atwood/Special to the TimesSefatia Romeo Theken, mayor of Gloucester

Gloucester’s mayor has agreed to stop interfering with the work of the Health Department, according to her lawyer. 

In early April, Public Health Director Karin Carroll listed a number of incidents where she said Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken’s actions contradicted the board’s plans, violated state Department of Public Health regulations and may have violated protections contained in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA.

Carroll, in an email to the city Board of Health, also said the mayor has interfered with the city Health Department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing incorrect information with the public and bypassing the department to personally arrange vaccine appointments for individuals.

Giving certain people access to the vaccine ahead of others, Carroll indicated in her email, is “inconsistent with the department’s commitment to health equity.” It was not immediately clear who was benefiting from any appointments arranged through the mayor’s office.

While the mayor does not agree with all of the accusations of misconduct that have been made by Carroll and Carroll’s attorney, Meredith Fine, in April 22 and May 3 letters to her attorney Leonard Kesten, Kesten sent a letter to Fine on May 4 outlining how Romeo Theken will behave going forward.

Fine would not comment unless Kesten responded to the Times’ request for comment. Kesten did not respond to the Times’ multiple calls and emails requesting comment.

The Times on Friday filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the two letters from Fine that Kesten referred to in his May 4 letter. 

“The mayor joins the Board of Health in expressing her gratitude for the tireless work of the entire Health Department in responding to this pandemic and she will continue to support and cooperate with the Department’s efforts to mitigate the crisis,” Kesten wrote in his May 4 letter.

According to Kesten’s letter, the mayor will not set up any vaccine appointments, will not conduct any contact tracing, and will not denigrate any Health Department employees or the department to anyone. 

Furthermore, Kesten wrote, the mayor will refer all vaccine- and testing-related questions to the Gloucester Health Department, will recognize the department’s chain of command and will follow the chain of command by contacting the director and assistant director initially. 

The letter notes that the mayor understands and respects the boundaries of the Health Department. 

“The mayor’s efforts towards those affected by the pandemic are sincere and a testament to her commitment to the city,” Kesten wrote. “She continues to be fully invested in the welfare of the residents of Gloucester.” 

Taylor Ann Bradford may be contacted at 978-675-2705, or on Twitter at TayBradford97.

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