As the health director and CEO of the East Shore District Health Department (ESDHD), which serves East Haven, Branford, and North Branford, Guilford resident Mike Pascucilla focuses on public health.
“Most people don’t understand what public health is,” says Mike. “At the highest level, it involves so many things: health and fitness, wellness, financial health, spiritual health. To truly be healthy, you have to be happy. Happiness and health go hand in hand. It’s important to balance life to bring all those components together.”
After graduating from Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in public health and nutrition, Mike moved to Suffield where he worked for the local health department for 15 years. During that time, he earned his master’s degree in public health at the University of Connecticut.
About 10 years ago, Mike and his family moved back to the shoreline after growing up in New Haven and West Haven. Mike proposed to his wife Maureen in 1996 and they were married in 1997. The couple has two children—8-year-old Grady and 12-year-old Sands.
“I realized that while [Suffield] was a beautiful area, it wasn’t the shoreline, so I moved back,” says Mike. “My family and my wife’s family are from the shoreline so having two young kids brought us back here.”
The family lived in Madison for five years and, for the past five years, in Guilford, which is a “great place to raise a family with a great sense of community.” A few years after moving back to the area, Mike was hired at the ESDHD in 2010.
“I get to work with a great staff, a great board, and the community to improve the public health of our communities,” says Mike. “We have state mandates and general statutes and laws to enforce, but enforcement is our last resort. We like to use education and we have some really good programs to try to get people to think about health and wellness.”
Mike stresses the importance of exercise and nutrition, which includes healthy cooking and reading the labels on foods.
“We’re starting to have the conversation that exercise is not optional,” says Mike. “We have some great health educators in our community doing these programs. We help people make a difference in their lives and it’s very rewarding. People have called to say, ‘Thank you for helping us,’ and that makes me feel good.”
Another thing Mike enjoys about his job is building relationships with other organizations in the community. He works with the YMCA, schools, non-profits, and local businesses.
“The strength of making changes is through networks and partnerships as the days of government doing things on its own are over,” says Mike. “We have our government partners and our towns, but beyond that, we have partners in the community and we engage all the different partners in any way we can.
“Working with our different partners, there are a lot of meetings and it’s a lot of work, but I really have to throw some sunshine to both my incredibly hard-working staff and my board of directors,” adds Mike. “Without their support, I couldn’t do it.”
Mike also credits his wife and his children for their support and their efforts to lead healthy lifestyles. This summer, Mike saw even more evidence of the support of his staff, his board of directors, and his family as he was awarded a sabbatical to study food allergies in the United Kingdom.
Mike and his family spent six weeks in England. The focus of his sabbatical was not only beneficial for his career, but for his personal life as well as his son has a tree nut allergy and his wife has a gluten allergy.
“I spent 30 days comparing how they handle food allergies in the U.K. compared to the U.S. as they are ahead of us in how they deal with it,” says Mike. “When we talk about food safety, our food supply is not as safe as it could be.”
As a public health director, Mike is on the receiving end of an influx of information on the state, national, and global level. One of a local health department’s services is to help residents prepare for travel overseas and getting the proper vaccinations. There is also a public health nursing program.
“If you don’t get the [recommended] vaccines [when traveling], you’re putting yourself and your family at risk,” says Mike. “A lot of folks are afraid to travel with all of the information out there, but I love traveling. We travel as much as we can. You just have to put things in perspective, live life, and be aware.”
While Mike and his family enjoy traveling, they also enjoy spending time on the shoreline. They enjoy spending time on their boat, fishing, and shellfishing.
With his love of the water, another important part of Mike’s job is the work the ESDHD does to improve Long Island Sound’s water. The department is in the process of obtaining a solar-powered pumpout boat and also does DNA source tracking of bacteria found in the water so they are able to find a solution to point-source pollution.
“I have a vested interest in Long Island Sound and it’s one of the best assets Connecticut has,” says Mike. “It’s a beautiful estuary and we need to protect it.”
Mike is also a runner who participates in local road races. His family attends the First Congregational Church of Guilford. Five years ago, Mike became an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Southern Connecticut State University, and working with youth is “one of my passions.”