Hatfield covid coordinator left post amid friction with schools

  • Hatfield Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, March 08, 2021

HATFIELD — After almost a year leading the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, both as a member of the Board of Health and an independent contractor, Kerry Flaherty has left the COVID coordinator position.

But Flaherty’s early February departure from doing the majority of this work for the town is raising concerns for the Select Board, with board members indicating that advice she offered related to reopening plans for the Hatfield public schools may have contributed to her decision.

Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal said at the board’s Feb. 16 meeting that Flaherty was “subjected to really poor treatment” that included a school employee undermining her authority and making condescending comments.

“It really bothers me that Kerry was subjected to some of that,” Szynal said.

Flaherty regularly attended School Committee meetings to give updates on the town’s COVID-19 numbers, including the rising caseload in the new year after the holidays. Syznal, as a parent of a 10th grade student, said she spoke up at one of those meetings to defend Flaherty’s work.

In Flaherty’s role, she helped families and businesses by contact tracing cases and provided advice about when people should isolate and quarantine. She could not be reached for comment Friday.

“She’s really been an unbelievable resource here in town,” Szynal said.

As early as the School Committee’s Jan. 11 meeting, during discussions about whether the schools should return to some form of hybrid education, Flaherty told members she was offended at being accused of providing inconsistent advice.

“I’ve worked hard to make sure everybody is safe, and I’ve done it on a daily basis,” Flaherty said.

Her comments came as a discussion about whether people who had tested positive should lead to a shutdown of school buildings as primary or secondary contacts were traced.

The more flexible health metrics she said could be followed appeared concerning for a staff member who advocated for more stringent health metrics for school reopening, Syznal said

Select Board member Brian Moriarty said this seemed to be a shoot the messenger situation.

“Too bad there was some friction created by others who didn’t like information Kerry was bringing forward,” Moriarty said.

Edmund Jaworski, the third member of the Select Board, said he agreed with the sentiments of his colleagues.

Claudia Sarti, a regional health inspector and health agent who does similar work for small communities throughout the area, will handle most of the COVID coordinator position’s duties. In a more limited role, Flaherty will be providing 10 hours per week of assistance to Sarti.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.