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Pittsfield Promotes Senior Sanitarian To Interim Public Health Director After Resignations

A group of people sit around a table in front of microphones
Josh Landes
Wednesday night's Pittsfield, Massachusetts Board of Health meeting.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts is preparing for a change among the public health officials who have helped lead the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting, Gina Armstrong announced she was resigning as Pittsfield’s Director of Public Health.

“I love the work that I do with each of you as my colleagues, and with the city administration, and so many of our community collaborative partners. It's just- I love the work we do here in public health," she said. "So it's unfortunate that, you know, it's- I need time to need more balance in my life, more time with my family.”

Armstrong’s last day will be September 10th.

“I've been working closely with each of you and with our health department staff, with the mayor's office, with colleagues in in public health around the county to do my best for a smooth transition to cover the work," she continued. "I'm so dedicated to all the progress we've made and the work we've done, especially around COVID. And I just want to assure you that right up until the 10th, we'll keep working hard to do our best with a smooth transition so that everything is covered.”

Board of Health Chair Alan Kulberg had nothing but effusive praise for Armstrong.

“I can't say enough about how effectively this department has run under her leadership,” said Kulberg.

He closed out the meeting with his own resignation, explaining in an interview that it simply felt like the right time.

“I spent a lot of time last year on the pandemic, and I just wanted to pursue other interests on my own, in my personal life and, and I wanted to be free of the responsibility of dealing with the many issues of the board," Kulberg told WAMC. “I felt that the board was in very good hands with the people who remain there, and it will continue to be- It's in the hands of some very bright, astute, insightful people who will carry on the mission of the board.”

A search is underway to find a new chair for the Board of Health.

Mayor Linda Tyer says the quest to replace Armstrong permanently is expected to begin in December.

“Andy Cambi, who will serve in the interim role, has an extensive amount of experience during COVID, both as a colleague who was mentored by Gina but also someone who was very much involved in helping businesses make for safe workplaces, helping residents understand how they can be safe," she told WAMC. "So I feel that while we're losing two phenomenal leaders, we have a strong bench, and we will continue to do everything to protect our community.”

Cambi began working for the city as a nuisance officer in 2014 before moving up to Senior Sanitarian.

“Sanitarian addresses public health issues," he explained. "We go into housing for tenant and landlord related problems, we enforce the state sanitary code. We also do food establishment inspections, and we go off the 2013 Food Code for inspection services. We also do pool services. So anything with public health, we're in pretty much.”

Like many things, that role changed once COVID-19 took hold in spring 2020.

“When we shifted to a pandemic of more of an emergency response, I moved more up into a leadership role and setting the example for my fellow coworkers to responding to the pandemic and keeping a calm presence and addressing the public with education,” said Cambi.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kulberg endorsed Cambi before a unanimous vote from the board to install him as the interim director of public health.

“I had an opportunity to work closely with Andy and I've come to recognize him as a very level headed professional person who I think can take over the job as interim director very capably, and I think he's a good choice," said Kulberg. "He's soft spoken, and yet as soft spoken as he is, he's a very effective person when it comes to administration and carrying through on all of his responsibilities.”

Cambi, who steps into the role on September 11th, says continuing to educate the public on the ongoing vaccination rollout and pandemic safety measures is his top priority.

“Beyond getting vaccinated is to just kind of check their everyday life to see what kind of vulnerable population they are around, family and friends, and just take that into consideration by you know, masking indoors, masking indoors and doing low risk activities,” he told WAMC.

Tyer says the trials of the pandemic will inform the pick for Armstrong’s permanent replacement.

“It's especially important to take into consideration some of the work we might be doing with the American Rescue Plan funds and the public health response, and making sure we have someone in a leadership position who's prepared to help us navigate that important resource,” said the mayor.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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