NEW MILFORD — For several months now, New Milford’s health director has had a second job.
Lisa Morrissey has been leading nearby Pomperaug District Department of Health as its interim director, while continuing her role in New Milford.
The district that serves Southbury, Oxford and Woodbury was out a health director after the suspension of Neal Lustig on June 2. Lustig had been employed by the district for more than three decades but was suspended followed a complaint filed by a new deputy director and an ensuing office incident with another employee.
The district needed someone to fill Lustig’s position until a permanent replacement could be found, and the board of directors reached out to Morrissey in New Milford.
After a conversation with New Milford Mayor Pete Bass, Morrissey said she took on the extra role this summer. Across the two districts, Morrissey is health director for five towns including New Milford, Washington, Southbury, Oxford and Woodbury.
“Lisa said she had the bandwidth to do it, and being good neighbors, we wanted to help,” Bass said. “It helps everyone.”
While she doesn’t have an estimate for how much time she spends on Pomperaug-related issues, Morrissey said she periodically visits the department to check in on things. She has also attended meetings virtually over Zoom, which cuts back on travel.
“It’s pretty cut and dry and standard,” she said of her added responsibilities. Several of the meetings she’s required to attend as New Milford health director are the same ones Pomperaug’s director would have to attend.
In an early August email, the Pomperaug health educator and sanitarian confirmed that all local health department-related questions should be directed to Morrissey.
Bass said he’s “absolutely not” concerned with New Milford’s health director splitting time between two different departments.
“Lisa works endless hours,” he said. “She said absolutely it would not affect New Milford, and that’s been the case.”
Neither Bass nor Morrissey know how long she will serve in the interim role, but Morrissey said that Pomperaug is using the time to rebrand and restructure before handing the department over to the next director.
At the time around Lustig’s suspension, an independent investigator filed a report that said the department had wide-ranging, systemic and cultural problems, and that “it is unclear, [REDACTED] whether PDDH can competently function at this juncture with the Director at the helm. Such deep-rooted and longstanding issues within PDDH indicate the need for leadership change.”
Morrissey said balancing two departments has been going well so far. But the work certainly keeps her busy. Her work days can often stretch to around 9:30 p.m.
“From morning ‘til night, I’m pretty much going,” she said.
Now that both departments are under her jurisdiction, she has started to coordinate blended COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot clinics. The New Milford scheduling website now lists both departments on its homepage.
“We’ve been able to leverage the strengths of both departments,” Morrissey said.
Another area this affects is school districts. Morrissey said she is now able to get all five superintendents on one call and coordinate COVID-19 strategies together.
“It really helps to see what is happening in the broader context of community,” she said, adding that the dual district work has also helped with consistency in messaging across communities.
As New Milford’s health director, Morrissey makes a base salary of $109,000, which she confirmed Thursday and which is also publicly available on New Milford’s website.
In Danbury, she made $115,000 as health director, per a 2019 report.
Pomperaug did not respond to inquiries regarding Morrissey’s salary. Morrissey declined to comment on her compensation there.
Morrissey came to New Milford in January after a stints in Danbury and Bridgeport. After a scary bout with COVID-19 in December of 2020 while working in Bridgeport, the health director, who is also a wife and mother, said her priorities changed. She wanted to be closer to her family while also making an impact on the community she served.
At the time, Morrissey said she asked herself: “How am I spending my time? Am I making a difference? Am I being impactful?”
“One of my favorite things about being in New Milford has been that I get all of the above,” she said. “You get to have your cake and eat it too. It’s a wonderful community to belong to, but I still get to go home to my family and my kids.”
For now, she will continue in her dual role until Pomperaug finds a new director.
“We’re happy that we’re able to help provide services for that area, and I just can’t thank Lisa enough,” Bass said.