Mansfield to retire from Ledge Light Health District next year, Muggeo to become director
When Steve Mansfield joined Ledge Light Health District in July 1998, he was working as an environmental health specialist for an organization that served only the Town of Groton and the City of Groton.
Now he’s the director of health for an organization that serves 10 municipalities, one that’s worked through not one but two pandemics (remember H1N1?). And now he’s preparing for his retirement.
He sent a letter last Wednesday to Ledge Light board Chairwoman Danielle Steward-Gelinas giving formal notice of his intent to retire effective July 6, 2023 after 25 years at Ledge Light, where he spent the entirety of his career in public health.
Mansfield recommended as his successor Jennifer Muggeo, who has been at Ledge Light since 2005 and is now deputy director. The board on Thursday appointed Muggeo to become the next director of health.
Mansfield, 55, started at Ledge Light as an environmental health specialist and was put in charge of the food protection program. The health district inspected about 200 restaurants at the time, but now it’s more than 1,000.
After 9/11, Mansfield became the emergency preparedness coordinator. He then became supervisor of environmental health and then deputy director before being promoted to director of health in February 2015.
The next year, Old Lyme joined the health district ― the first new municipality in a decade ― and Stonington, North Stonington and Lyme followed. Ledyard, Waterford, New London and East Lyme had joined between 2001 and 2006.
When Mansfield got his master’s degree, he did his thesis work in public health regionalization, and touts the public health and economic benefits of regionalization. The average annual budget increase since he became director is under 1%.
Mansfield describes the past two and a half years dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as “surreal.” Marching orders came from the governor’s office but health districts were charged with enforcement, and staff had to roll with changes that were coming rapidly.
Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule said in a news release, “Whether coordinating vaccination clinics or mask distributions or helping inform the public, Steve and his great staff were indispensable to our most fundamental responsibility: preserving the health and safety of Waterford residents.”
And there were still other, nonpandemic activities that needed to be done.
“The world doesn’t stop because we have a pandemic response,” Mansfield said. “We still have to inspect restaurants. People still need to repair their septic systems.”
Started from the bottom
The current and future director came to public health in very different ways.
Mansfield said his interest in public health goes back to when he was about 10 years old and growing up on Ocean Avenue in New London. He spent a lot of time fishing and crabbing with his brothers at Alewife Cove, and he recalled seeing people doing water sampling one day. They explained they were doing water quality assessments, and he thought that was a cool job.
While studying biology at Southern Connecticut State University, Mansfield also took courses in epidemiology and public health, and he ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public health.
But he didn’t jump into the field right away. He was building boats at MP&G in Mystic, and one of his customers was former Ledge Light Director Sam Crowley, who told Mansfield the agency was looking for an environmental health specialist.
Mansfield and Muggeo both received their Master of Public Health degree while working at Ledge Light, respectively in 2006 and 2014.
Muggeo, 46, moved to the area when her husband — who was active-duty Navy at the time — was transferred. Her bachelor’s degree is in business administration, and she started at Ledge Light as supervisor of finance and administration.
She started pursuing her master’s in public administration but stopped when her oldest child was born, and said the professional decision “ended up being a great thing” because her involvement in public health programming made her realize she wanted to pursue her MPH instead.
Muggeo took on a role in special projects and population health, and she has worked with the Alliance for Living on NLC CARES, a project focused on harm reduction for people who use drugs. She is also passionate about health equity and working with community partners “to identify and dismantle those barriers that stand in the way of health.”
“I’m truly honored, really, by the confidence that Steve and the board have expressed, and it’s been an amazing journey over my 17 years here to come in with virtually no understanding of what public health was,” Muggeo said with a laugh, “and to expand my role outside of my original responsibilities in business administration.”
Mansfield said the pandemic influenced his decision to retire next year instead of further down the road. His wife retired about six months ago — she was a nurse at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital — and “highly recommended it.”
The couple, who live in Noank, bought a Sprinter van a few years ago and converted it into a camper, and Mansfield said “maybe the first thing we do is hop in the van and drive west or north or south.” They want to finish hiking the 100 highest summits in New England, and hike the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails.
Mansfield credited his staff for their teamwork and stepping up to the plate, commenting on how the turnover rate is “extremely low.”
Muggeo said of Mansfield, “I think he and I have worked together in partnership for 17 years, so I think that it will be seamless, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to work with him on this transition.”
Editor’s note: Mansfield was building boats while working at MP&G. This information was incorrect in a previous version of this story.