New public health director named in Wallingford

WALLINGFORD — A familiar face has been appointed as the director of the town’s Health Department.

Mayor William Dickinson Jr. announced Friday that Vanessa Bautista is the new head of the department where she has worked for six years in positions that included sanitarian and interim director.

“It is an honor,” Bautista said Monday. “I’ve lived in town since I was in high school and I have been serving the community of Wallingford for many years.”

Bautista, 32, came to the United States from her native Ecuador when she was 10. She lived in Hamden before moving to Wallingford, where she graduated from Lyman Hall High School. She earned a degree in public health from Southern Connecticut State University, where she met Eloise Hazelwood, the health department’s former director who was teaching at Southern at the time. It was Hazelwood who hired her in 2016.

After a gig at the Farmington Health District, Bautista came to Wallingford as a sanitarian and was soon named the department’s chief sanitarian. In April of this year, she was named interim health director after former Health Director Stephen Civitelli resigned to take a position in Florida. In June, she reached the limit of how long she could serve as the interim director, so Hazelwood returned to fill in until a permanent director was named.

Bautista worked closely with Civitelli during the pandemic, which she said was an intense time.

“It was a lot of work,” she said. “We wore many hats and I’m sure it was crazy for everybody. We did the best we could. We were a psychologist, a social worker for those people who were in need of social and emotional and mental support. It was crazy. 

“People fear the unknown, and it was our job to keep them at bay with their mental health,” she said. “And not just mental health, but prevention, the spread of the disease. Back then at the beginning it was a challenge to keep everybody educated, keep them following the preventive measures and all that.”

Looking to the future, Bautista said one of her goals is to replenish the crew of the department’s Medical Reserve Corps volunteers who work with the community, administering programs and staffing clinics.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve lost a lot of our MRC volunteers. We had about 200 and because we weren’t active, obviously people didn’t want to volunteer in person at clinics because of the risk, and that’s totally understandable,” Bautista said.

“Right now the goal for the department is to recruit volunteers, get them in training, get them active again, get them involved in the community and do a lot of in-person trainings, workshops, seminars, CPR classes, self-defense classes,” she said. “We did a lot in healthcare, but we unfortunately had to stop a lot of in-person training.”

Bautista’s salary was not available Monday. Before he left Civitelli was making $106,468 annually.

Dickinson said Wallingford is lucky to have someone as competent as Bautista.

“Ms. Bautista is a well-organized, intelligent person who works very effectively to provide services while understanding the emotional impacts of public health directives,” Dickinson said. “We are fortunate to be able to benefit from her talents.”


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