By Vicki Greene, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – John Garside, Marlborough’s Board of Health (BOH) Director, has been in public health for more than 15 years. As such, he has worked as a health inspector in several communities around the state. But Garside never expected to be running a city Board of Health during a global pandemic.
After serving in health departments in communities such as Westford, Lexington, Ipswich and Gardner, Garside decided to try the private sector and worked in real estate development for 12 years. He kept up his state certifications thinking he would someday return to public health and in 2015 he did just that, joining Marlborough’s BOH as a field inspector (officially termed a sanitarian).
Leading the city through the pandemic
In October of 2019, Garside became the interim director of the city’s BOH and was officially appointed to the director position in December of 2019, approximately two to three months before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Marlborough.
“Being a field inspector in the city for four years meant that I knew all of the business folks and residential folks, setting me up well when the pandemic hit,” Garside said.
He said many people had his personal phone number and knew they could reach out to him with questions about anything. When COVID-19 cases started to increase, Garside said he and his staff were fielding calls from city departments and businesses asking about what do with symptomatic employees, questions about who should be considered essential workers, who and how should the city set up testing sites as well as questions about when and for how long to quarantine someone.
Garside credits the work of his strong team of five full-time members and part-time nurses, as well as part-time bilingual ambassadors, who were brought on to reach out to community members during the pandemic as well as a part-time food inspector to handle restaurant-specific inspection cases. In addition, when the schools closed last March, he said his department gratefully received help from school nurses who worked out of the BOH offices over the summer to help with contact tracing.
“We have a great team that can cry or laugh together as we work through all of this,” he said.
While most of his days are spent on phone or video calls with the state’s Department of Public Health, Mayor Arthur Vigeant, and Superintendent of Schools Michael Bergeron, Garside stressed that “competent and consistent” communication is the key to running the department during such a critical time.
Garside begins his day meeting with his staff and often a call with Vigeant, to discuss any changes in CDC guidelines, protocols, positive case data, testing sites, and most recently vaccination staffing and sites, so everyone is “on the same page” if they get a call or inquiry.
Admittedly, busy days means lunch at his desk “over his keyboard” but he said early on in his public health career he had someone say to him “all you guys should get your boots dirty before you put a badge on.” That stuck with him, he said, because it is important for people who count on his team to know they have “walked the walk” and can be trusted in tough times.
With so much time needed to work on issues related to COVID-19, Garside said the usual number of field health inspection and code enforcement calls the department receives for homes, pools, sewer projects, developments, and office buildings, has gone down during the pandemic because many people are working from home and less people are taking on projects.
Importance of family
Raised as one of six boys growing up in Westford, he said both of his parents had strong work ethics. His father was a pharmacist and then a teacher (and often worked a second job) and his mother worked in a school lunchroom so when asked about working long hours or getting work calls on a Sunday evening, Garside said “it’s simply part of the job.”
He lives in Groton with his wife, Susan and his beloved 10-year-old Golden Retriever Ace. They have a son and a daughter who are both away at college. Garside noted that if he has free time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle or driving his cars.
Click here for more Marlborough news.