Brockton’s John McGarry, the retired head of the Elections Commission and a former city councilor, is stepping aside from his role as the executive health officer for the city of Brockton. McGarry, 67, who jumped into the position just as the coronavirus crisis started, cited personal health issues.
BROCKTON – In mid-March, John McGarry jumped out of retirement as the former executive director of the Elections Commission, heeding a call to become the head of Brockton’s Board of Health, just before the city got its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.
McGarry, 67, is now stepping down effective Friday from the demanding, time-consuming job as Brockton’s executive health officer, citing his own health problems and the concerns of his family. The mayor of Brockton said he’s coming up with a plan to fill McGarry’s position as the coronavirus crisis continues to wreak havoc in Brockton, one of the hot spots in Massachusetts for the pandemic.
“I have some underlying issues exacerbated by stress and amount of hours I’ve been working,” said McGarry, reached by phone on Tuesday morning. “When the mayor asked me to step up, neither one of us realized what the city was facing. While I was happy to do it, and I’d do it again, it has taken a significant toll on me.”
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McGarry, who declined to get into detail about his health condition, said serving as the city’s top public health official amid the coronavirus crisis was the most stressful job he’s ever had. McGarry said the stress was heightened by the genuine concern he feels for his fellow residents of Brockton.
“I really care about my city,” said McGarry, who been overseeing a staff of about 10 full-timers at the Board of Health. “It’s taken a toll on me because of my concerns for the health and wellbeing of the citizens. You don’t get a lot of sleep at night, you don’t eat correctly, and it catches up to you. You’re in constant meetings. You’re trying to deal with providing services. You’re looking to get any help you can for the city. … It’s extremely stressful.”
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As of Monday, Brockton counted 158 deaths as a result of the coronavirus, with many of those deaths occurring in nursing homes. In a city of roughly 100,000 people, a total of 3,054 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday. Brockton has a higher rate of the coronavirus than any other community in Massachusetts except for Chelsea.
“There is no part of the city that hasn’t been affected, from the four corners of the city to the core,” McGarry said. “Our nursing homes have been extremely hard hit. the loss of life in teh city is great. It’s horrific. Each one breaks my heart, to know their family members weren’t able to say goodbye to their loved ones, due to this terrible disease.”
In addition to his background as the former elections chief in Brockton for nearly two decades, McGarry said he is a nurse who last worked part-time in the operating room at Milton Hospital seven years ago, after starting as a graduate of the Brockton Hospital School of Nursing in 1979 and later becoming a nurse manager at the former Goddard Memorial Hospital in Stoughton during the ’80s.
Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan thanked McGarry for taking on the executive health officer role when the coronavirus started. Before that, the head office clerk at the Board of Health filled the position for several months, following the death of former Brockton executive health officer Louis Tartaglia in July last year.
“When he took the job, we both didn’t know the magnitude of commitment, stress and time involved,” said Sullivan, reached on Tuesday afternoon. “He’s always been someone I could rely on. I truly appreciate everything he’s done. … I’ve just been so thankful for his efforts, his professionalism and his friendship as he’s worked countless hours as we’ve tried to get through this pandemic together.”
Sullivan told members of City Council during a video conference meeting on Monday that he’s planning to tap a physician as a coronavirus response consultant, although he didn’t disclose the name of that person. Sullivan said told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he’s also trying to find someone to fill McGarry’s role.
“I’m delving into it and working with HR to figure out the next steps and the right fit,” Sullivan said in an short telephone interview. “Ultimately, because we’re faced with a worldwide pandemic, it’s important to find someone with the professionalism and expertise.”
Councilor-at-large Winthrop Farwell said he understands why McGarry needs to step down, but commended him for the job he did.
“He just had the perfect resume to step in and tackle this,” Farwell said. “He’s not a bureaucrat. He’s a very compassionate person and gets involved deeply. I wish there were a way he could stay, but I do understand how much it takes out of him.”
McGarry, who sports a long beard like Santa Claus and served as Ward 3 Councilor from 1990 to 1999, has been consumed with daily updates on the coronavirus figures for Brockton for the past two months, along with constant meetings, coordinated efforts with state officials, contact tracing, and outreach to community residents and businesses about public health guidelines. McGarry said his message to Brockton residents is to keep up the “critical” social distancing efforts at this time.
“I want people to understand how serious this is,” McGarry said. “The young people have to understand that, while they may come through this with less impact than us older folks, you can carry it home to your parents and grandparents and cause them significant health problems, and possibly even death. You can’t look at this lightly, no matter what age you are. Do what’s best for your city and family.”