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Catalano Comfortable in Role as Bellngham's Health Agent

Aug 29, 2014 10:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey

Board Members (L-R) Tricia LeClaire, Chairman Vincent Forte, Mike Catalano & Kelly McGovern

written by KEN HAMWEY,
Bulletin Staff Writer
Mike Catalano has been on the job as Bellingham’s health agent for only two months, but the 57-year-old is right at home in his full-time role of monitoring public health and safety for the town’s residents.

One reason why the Bellingham native has settled into his role so quickly is his background and experience. Catalano has been dealing with public health issues for 30 years, handling those responsibilities in three communities before arriving in Bellingham as a part-time health consultant in 2010.

“I majored in public health at Worcester State and, when I graduated in 1984, I was hired part-time in Milford as a health inspector,” said Catalano, who’s lived in Blackstone for 21 years. “I later worked as the health agent in Hopkinton before becoming a health inspector in Medway for nine years. When Mike Graf was having health issues, he asked me to fill in in Bellingham while he was recovering. I respected Mike as a friend and high-caliber health agent. I worked once for three months and later for a 16-month stretch as a consultant after Mike passed away.”

Catalano, who is in his second year as a Selectman in Blackstone, reports to Bellingham’s Board of Health and functions as the go-to guy who ensures that state and local codes are enforced for the protection of public health. The two agencies that he deals with mostly are the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Catalano mainly focuses on food inspections, housing inspections and Title 5 septic system reviews. “Food inspections are done at restaurants and retail food establishments,” he said. “Housing inspections deal with minimum standards for human habitation, and Title 5 inspections involve soil evaluation, design review, installation and final compliance.”
“The Board of Health is the approving authority,” Catalano said. “I offer the board opinions after extensive research on a particular issue.” The board comprises Chairman Vincent Forte Jr., Vice-Chairman Kelly McGovern and Tricia LeClaire.
Catalano, a 1975 graduate of Bellingham High, listed five areas where Bellingham has been pro-active in dealing with health issues: marijuana dispensaries, an anti-smoking campaign, a needle and syringe disposal program, tattoo parlors and restaurants.
Marijuana Dispensaries—according to Catalano, there is no dispensary for Bellingham because the sites have already been determined by the state. “But we could have a cultivating area or farm in the future,” he said. “It’s a possibility, but right now Bellingham has no dispensary or cultivating farm.”
  • Anti-Smoking Campaign—We’ve stressed education and enforcement through signage and stings,” Catalano said of selling tobacco to minors. “The Board of Health is the catalyst or organizer for stings to ensure that no one is selling tobacco to minors (under age 18).”
  • Needle & Syringe Disposal—“Our trash contractor provides pre-paid containers for the proper disposal of needles and syringes,” Catalano emphasized. “We’re also focusing on educating people on the proper disposal of old medications or unused prescription drugs. No one should use a toilet to dispose of medicine. We don’t want any substance going into the ground.”
  • Tattoo Parlors—There are currently three in Bellingham, but four will be the absolute maximum. Catalano inspects parlors for medical records, equipment used, and disposal practices. “We make sure the medical records are intact for those applying tattoos,” he said. “We inspect equipment to make sure it’s up to snuff, and we inspect parlors twice a year. We also demand that their needles are disposed of in a bio-hazard container and they have a contract with a specific firm for disposal.”
  • Restaurants—Temperature, storage and preparation are the key words when dealing with restaurants. “All temperatures must be good for food,” Catalano said. “Storage means what’s hot is stored as hot and what’s cold is stored as cold. Proper containers also are a must. As for preparation, we demand that utensils are clean, personnel are clean and stoves or ovens are clean.”
When cafeteria inspections are executed at schools, Catalano is on site. “One area we’ve been involved in is emphasizing hand-washing,” he noted. “That’s crucial during flu season. We work with the school nurses in November, and the first week of December is national hand-washing week.”

Married for 31 years, Catalano and his wife, Donna, have two children—Josh, 27; and Tegan, 24. Besides his work in Blackstone as a Selectman, Catalano has been a member of the board of health for 12 years, a member of the water and sewer board for two years and a finance committeeman for a year.

“In Bellingham, we strive to stay on top of issues, whether it’s well-testing or enforcing Title 5 regulations,” Catalano said. “My main function is to look out for the public health and safety of Bellingham residents as well as protecting the environment. Everyone in Bellingham’s inspectional services department works as a team.”

It seems that Mike Catalano has settled into his role rather nicely.
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