A1 A1
Foster unopposed for mayor; contested races in First and Third wards

CHESTERTOWN — A late filing flurry ahead of the Friday, Oct. 1 deadline has given voters in the First and Third wards a choice when they go to the polls next month to elect their respective council member.

The race for mayor is uncontested as incumbent David Foster is the only candidate.

The election is Nov. 2.

There are two candidates each in the First and Third wards; all of them filed their petitions of candidacy less than 48 hours before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline.

Jose Medrano (Third Ward) and Robert Miller (First Ward) filed in that order on Wednesday, Sept. 29, Tim O’Brien (First Ward) filed on Thursday, Sept. 30 and Edward Gallo (Third Ward) filed on Friday.

Each met the residency requirements and had the required 20 (or more) signatures of verified registered voters on their petition of candidacy, according to minutes of the town’s Board of Supervisors of Elections meeting Oct. 1.

Town Clerk Jen Mulligan said she carefully worked with the Kent County Board of Elections to verify the petition of candidacy signatures for each candidate. She said she “double checked” to make sure each voter was in the proper ward because new geographical boundaries were adopted by the council in March — the town’s first redistricting since 1995.

Foster is seeking a full four-year term as mayor.

He has been mayor since May, ascending to the seat after the sudden resignation of Chris Cerino.

Incumbents Sam Shoge (First Ward) and Ellsworth Tolliver (Third Ward) are not seeking re-election.

Foster declared his candidacy for mayor at the Sept. 7 council meeting, and filed his petition for candidacy on Sept. 20.

“I’m very flattered to be running unopposed. I hope that’s a sign of voter confidence and not voter apathy. ... I’m very pleased and flattered by the support,” Foster said during the mayor’s report of the Monday, Oct. 4 mayor and council meeting.

“We do have two very competitive races and I think four good candidates, two in each ward,” Foster said. “We were scared that for a while we might not have anybody running.”

He told Shoge and Tolliver that they are leaving “big shoes to fill” and he thanked them for their service.

Foster was elected to the council four years ago in a three-man race in the First Ward. One of the candidates Foster defeated in that election was Miller.

When Cerino resigned in April, after announcing the month before that he would not seek a third term, Foster won a majority vote of the council to serve out the remainder of Cerino’s term.

Foster was officially sworn in as mayor on May 17.

Shoge was the only applicant to fill Foster’s seat, and he joined the council on May 28.

Shoge previously served one term on the council, when he resided in the Third Ward. (He and his young family have lived in the First Ward for about three years.)

Shoge did not seek re-election in 2017, when Tolliver was unchallenged in his bid for the Third Ward seat.

The election is Nov. 2. The only polling place is the Chestertown firehouse. Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

All Town of Chestertown registered voters will be eligible to vote for mayor. Only registered voters in the First Ward will be eligible to vote for the candidates in the First Ward, and only registered voters in the Third Ward will be eligible to vote for the Third Ward seat.

Information concerning ward boundaries can be found online at www.townofchestertown.com or by calling the town office at 410-778-0500.

Forms and information regarding absentee ballots may be obtained by contacting the town office. Absentee ballots must be requested in writing no later than 5 p.m. Oct. 27.

Note that following the Oct. 27 deadline, there is a process for emergency absentee ballots. For information, contact the town office.

CHESTERTOWN — Book lovers browse the titles of the fall Friends of the Kent County Public Library book sale Saturday afternoon, Oct. 2. The sale of donated books ran four days, with a members night Thursday and Sunday offering the always popular fill a box for $5.

centerpiece featured
UM Shore Regional Health staff refusing mandatory COVID vaccines face unpaid leave, potential resignation
  • Updated
  • 5 min to read

EASTON — Staff members working for the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health system were set to be placed on unpaid leave starting Friday, Oct. 1, and will eventually face the loss of their jobs if they don’t comply with the health care system’s vaccine mandate.

Health care workers and community members in the Mid-Shore region who are against the mandated vaccination have taken to the streets, local meetings and social media to spread awareness for what they deem to be an unfair condition of employment. The morning prior to the mandate going into effect, about a dozen employees and supporters stood outside UM Shore Medical Center at Easton to convey their dismay with the policy.

In a meeting Sept. 28 with the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners, UM Shore Regional Health President and CEO Ken Kozel spoke about the challenges of getting holdout employees vaccinated and making sure they are aware of the system’s expectations and the ramifications of their decisions.

“It’s a privilege to work in health care and provide health care,” Kozel told the commissioners. “But with that privilege, I believe, comes responsibility ... and that’s why the mandate exists.”

Kozel said that as of Sept. 28, there were 150 people receiving inpatient care for COVID-19 throughout the entire University of Maryland Medical System, UM Shore Regional Health’s parent organization. He said about 25% of COVID patients are in intensive care units and another 25% are on ventilators.

Locally, UM Shore Regional Health is seeing between five and 10 COVID-related admissions per day, primarily in the Easton hospital, Kozel said.

In a statement issued Saturday, Oct. 2, UMMS President and CEO Dr. Mohan Suntha issued a statement saying that 98% of clinical staff and 96% of all employees are in “full compliance” with the mandatory vaccination requirement.

He said the system will work over the next 30 days to get those unvaccinated team members currently on administrative leave vaccinated and back to work.

“In health care, keeping our patients and colleagues as safe as possible is our first and highest responsibility, and the overwhelming body of scientific evidence tells us that vaccines are one of the most effective tools we have to prevent infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” Suntha said.

Concerns first arose in early June after UMMS announced the vaccine requirement. A UMMS news release explained that all staff members across the system who were not vaccinated by Sept. 1 were required to participate in weekly COVID testing at no cost to the individual.

Staff members who did not receive their vaccination, an approved exemption — religious or medical — or a temporary deferral for pregnancy by Oct. 1 are now considered to be non-compliant with the system’s COVID policy.

UM Shore Regional Health will be enforcing UMMS’s administrative procedures for non-compliance, which include written warnings and unpaid administrative leave for a period of 30 days or until the staff member complies with the policy, whichever comes first.

Staff members who don’t comply with the policy by the end of the 30-day period are considered to have resigned from their position, said Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesperson for UMMS.

Health care workers at the UM Shore Medical Center in Easton advised that earlier in the week, their superiors within the hospital gave them a rough number of 250 employees that will be affected by the new policy. UM Shore Regional Health initially did not confirm the exact number of employees that will be placed on administrative leave starting on Oct. 1.

But the hospital later said on Oct. 1 there were about 50 unvaccinated employees on staff. Hospital officials also point out there are COVID vaccine mandates for health care workers issued by the state of Maryland and Biden administration.

UMMS issued their statement on vaccination requirements for employees on June 9 — two months prior to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s Aug. 18 announcement that all hospital employees statewide were required to be vaccinated by Sept. 1 or submit to weekly testing.

Local hospital staff members against the mandate have expressed frustrations and sadness toward their employer for their stance on the mandate. A longtime health care worker within the UM Shore Regional Health system, who asked to not be named, said that she feels that the staff members’ questions on the mandate and choice to make their own medical decisions had not been honored by hospital administration.

“Our issue is that we’ve had a lot of questions asked about the vaccine and about the mandate, and we’ve not gotten those questions answered,” she said. “We are being forced to get the vaccine or lose our jobs.”

The health care worker told The Star Democrat that hospital administration tells their staff that the vaccine is safe, effective and “our way to end this pandemic.” However, when staff members brought up concerns about the vaccine not being as safe or as effective as originally perceived, they’re told that they’re hearing false information or that they don’t believe in science — even though they do, she said.

She pointed out that a lot of information about adverse effects, such as sickness or heart issues from the vaccine, is not being given to the general public.

The Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (VAERS), a CDC and FDA-managed website, tracks adverse events reported by health care professionals and vaccine manufacturers. It also tracks self-reported adverse events submitted by individuals who have received vaccines.

“None of us are anti-vax, that is not what this is about,” the worker said of her fellow protesting colleagues. “This is about an anti-mandate; we don’t want to be mandated to take a vaccine that we don’t feel comfortable with yet, and that’s what’s happening.”

UMMS employees more than 29,500 workers statewide.

There are about 750 employees throughout the UMMS who have not complied with the organization’s COVID vaccine mandate. Those employees are on administrative leave, according to Schwartzberg. He said 60% of the unvaccinated staff members work eight hours or less a week.

In a statement issued Thursday, Sept. 30, UM Shore Regional Health spokesperson Trena Williamson said that health care workers in the system are “held to a higher standard” in service to the vulnerable patients in their care.

The health care system is not losing hope for their non-compliant employees.

Williamson said that they value all of their staff members and consider them to be UM Shore Regional Health’s “greatest asset.” Vaccination clinics with the choice of all three vaccines will continue to be offered for hospital staff, and the system will continue to work with team members to abide by this new policy, she said.

The health care worker also pointed out that even individuals who are fully vaccinated can spread COVID, get sick or die from the virus, just like the unvaccinated. However, regardless of vaccination status, she said that every staff member in her hospital is still employing the same universal precautions against COVID: wearing a N95 mask, a surgical mask, eye protection and gloves.

“We’re still hand washing and we’re still doing all of those things, staying home if you’re sick, and you know, I’m not sure what more we could do,” she said.

In his statement Oct. 2, Suntha said vaccinations also reduce and prevent employee absences due to illness and quarantine “and have proven to be a very important stabilizing force in helping to keep team members at work, in our hospitals, caring for our patients.”

“By far, the biggest challenge facing UMMS and all hospitals are the large numbers of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients we are caring for across our state. This is why we urge Marylanders to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible. Doing so is an act of compassion and selflessness that will allow our incredible nurses, doctors and other care providers to stay focused on safely providing the best possible care to every patient in our System,” Suntha said.

Additional reporting by Luke Parker and Daniel Divilio.

FallFest returns to Rock Hall Oct. 9

ROCK HALL — The oyster isn’t really migratory, as everyone knows, but Kent County’s quaint waterman’s village of Rock Hall celebrates the “return” of the oyster every year with FallFest.

The 24th annual event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9. The historic Main Street will be shut down from Chesapeake Avenue to state Route 20 to create a casual street fair atmosphere with something for all ages and tastes, particularly those with a taste for oysters, according to a news release.

To give an early boost to the local oyster economy and harvest, between 3,000 and 4,000 oysters are consumed at every FallFest, with local watermen doing the shucking for raw oysters on the half-shell.

There also are fried oyster platters prepared by Chester River Seafood and grilled oysters from Orchard Point Oyster Co.

In addition to the popular bivalve, there will be numerous food vendors providing traditional fair fare, including hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, barbecue, ice cream and fried chicken.

FallFest began in 1998 as primarily a music festival, nurtured and organized by local musician Tom McHugh.

This year’s event will be held in his memory. McHugh passed away in May due to complications from a stroke at the age of 83, but his spirit and vision will live on with the 24th edition of FallFest.

There will be a half-dozen acts performing all day on two separate stages, one in front of the Mainstay and the other at the far end of the street, next to Bayside Foods.

“Tom used to say that music isn’t just music,” said Peg McHugh, Tom’s wife. “He was using music to make people think and to help find peace in their lives.”

Tom McHugh, a lifelong musician who began playing trumpet in a high school band, also was an accomplished banjo and harmonica player. He played in various ensembles based in Kent County and was the founder of the Mainstay, Rock Hall’s casual but cutting-edge music venue.

After retiring from more than three decades of university professorship, beginning at Washington College in Chestertown, McHugh was the director of the Mainstay from 1997 to 2015.

Upon “retiring” again, he became liaison between Kent County schools and the local arts community, and, among his other accomplishments, established the Rock Hall Elementary School kazoo band. That whimsical group will perform in his honor at this year’s FallFest.

A tribute to his contributions will take place at this year’s FallFest.

Also taking to the stages during the nonstop musical program that lasts the duration of the event will be: Louisiana-tinged Philip Dutton and the Alligators; Dave Robinson and His Jazz Pals; five-piece acoustic cover masters Rosewood; guitarist of world music Ian Trusheim; and the crowd-pleasing Catonsville High School Steel Band.

The entertainment at FallFest also extends beyond food and music.

There will be a Kids Kourt at the Village with face-painting and multiple activities for the younger set.

Also, there will be craft vendors all along Main Street, displaying fiber arts, embroidery, jewelry, photography, shotgun shell wreaths, folk art, wood sculptures, beach-y home décor, seasonal plants and more.

FallFest, which is a nonprofit event to benefit town enrichment programs of Main Street Rock Hall, has no admission fee and there is plenty of nearby free parking in this walking-friendly town.

Leashed pets are welcome — and can expect to be petted.

The town, established in 1707 as Rock Hall Crossroads, is still a vibrant bayside community. While enjoying FallFest, make time to visiting the working harbor, and nearby beach.

Just a few miles south of town is Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, which provides natural habitat for more than 240 species of birds, including the bald eagle.

Rock Hall will be waiting to welcome you on Sat., Oct. 9, and the oysters will be waiting, too. For more information, and updated music listings, visit www.rockhallfallfest.org.