Hadley Select Board halts Senior Center vax mandate

  • Hadley Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Hadley Select Board Chairman David J. Fill II FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2022

HADLEY — A recently adopted Board of Health requirement that senior citizens provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to participate in group programs and other activities at the Hadley Senior Center later this month is being put on hold.

The Select Board voted unanimously Jan. 5 against adopting the order that was to go into effect Jan. 17. Instead, the board supported reactivating the town’s Unified Command to develop protocols for use of municipal buildings that are open to the public, with a focus on the Senior Center, the Hadley Public Library and Town Hall.

“I’d like to see Unified Command get together rather than boards just going off and doing their own thing,” Select Board Chairman David J. Fill II said.

The health board voted Dec. 30 to implement the vaccine mandate, but noted in its vote that the rule was contingent on Select Board endorsement. The Select Board oversees policies for entrance to town buildings, and next meets Jan. 19, when it could adopt new protocols or alternative methods to keep the community safe.

Fire Chief Mike Spanknebel, who will be part of the Unified Command, told the Select Board that a plan to combat the pandemic can be developed by bringing together, among others, the police, fire and school departments, the Select Board and the Board of Health.

“If you want us to call a Unified Command meeting, that can happen whenever you see fit,” Spanknebel said, explaining that its charge is to figure out what is best for the community, as it did in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.

“We just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page across the board,” Spanknebel said.

Select Board member Joyce Chunglo said having all town and school leaders speaking to each other will mean an opportunity “so that we can make a good decision on what we need for the town of Hadley.”

Chunglo added that, despite rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the region, she isn’t pushing to close the Senior Center down. She said issues can be resolved in a cooperative way.

Board member Jane Nevinsmith, as a volunteer at the Senior Center, said most town elders are concerned about their health, taking advantage of things like early shopping hours when stores are not crowded. Because of that, she said, “the reason for having the vaccine mandate for the Senior Center makes sense.”

Fill, though, said, such a mandate is antithetical to Hadley’s values. “I don’t think mandates — it’s not Hadley, it’s discrimination against, again, a small portion, no matter how small, for me, that’s an issue,” he said.

Board member John Waskiewicz said he is seeing a divided community, based on input the Select Board received orally and in writing.

Claire Arenius of West Street said putting a vaccine mandate in place could lead to isolation for seniors, and less unity among townspeople. “I do not think the vaccines would prevent transmission of disease any more so than an unvaxxed person would,” Arenius said.

Public services supported by taxpayers should not be denied residents, said Wade Vandoloski of Newton Lane. “I feel discrimination based on something that should be a personal medical decision is wrong,” Vandoloski said.

But Helen Blatz of Meadowbrook Drive said she has taken yoga classes and art classes at the center, and not having a vaccine passport would further erode safety, citing “a sense of security there which is dissipating as we go forward without having it continue requiring proof of vaccination.”

A mandate is no different than entrance requirements for events at the University of Massachusetts, said Bruce Brewer, a member of the Council on Aging.

“This policy is in keeping with many policies that have already been passed in this area, but also the state, the country and the world,” Brewer said.

Police Chief Michael Mason, who will be part of Unified Command, sent a letter to the Select Board concerned about how the vaccine mandate would be enforced and whether officers might be called regularly to the Senior Center.

Senior Center Director Hayley Wood spoke in favor of the mandate, but with it being put off wants to find other avenues to promote health and safety through the Unified Command.

“I would really like to be included in that conversation,” Wood said. “I really think we should all be at the table together and have a conversation as a group and come at this in a different way.”