BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield Health and Human Services Director Karen Lore has retired after 34 years of township service. Born in Jersey City, Lore attended Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington and received her Bachelor of Arts from Kean University. Her master’s degree in social work is from Rutgers University. It was while working at a mental health outpatient facility in East Orange that she read a help-wanted ad for a Bloomfield social service specialist. She applied.
“I was always interested in human behavior,” she recently told The Independent Press. “When I saw the job in Bloomfield, I thought I’d see a lot of people of varied backgrounds and influence the overall health of a population.”
She started in the human services division as a social service specialist; in this role, she evaluated people for mental health problems, including individuals who had been arrested. Perhaps surprisingly, she said the department then was similar to its current size of roughly 20 people.
“The primary differences working back then was that there were no computers or cell phones,” she said. “The communications were not immediate or constant, so you had the opportunity to go out and make recommendations. Now people want information right away. There’s a real eagerness for it. But in government, that’s not possible. You have to go through channels.”
When dealing with health issues, Lore said providing information to the public is important. But the public generally does not know what is going on behind the scenes. According to Lore, health departments across the country work to prevent outbreaks and serious issues — work that becomes apparent only when a health issue erupts.
“We’ve always been behind the scenes with various outbreaks,” Lore said, “and there’s always been that need to educate the public.”
After serving as a social service specialist, Lore became supervisor of the welfare office and then its director. This was before that office was combined with human services. She was then promoted to health and human services director. Over time, the department’s philosophy evolved.
“It’s always important to have a health official at the table when a major policy is being planned,” she said. ”Health behavior isn’t always the sole responsibility of the individual. We’ve also learned we have to create healthy environments. But environments have to be convenient. If they are not convenient, we’ll soon see behavior we don’t want.”
Lore said her most recent challenges as director are understanding changes in the workforce and trying to get young people interested in public service.
“We need to have people see they’re connected to a larger effort,” she said. “We need a flexible workforce.’
Another difference, albeit recently, has been the ease with which the health department can meet with its community partners via technology.
Shared service agreements have increased, from two to nine partnerships, since Lore was hired. She credits the increase to the department’s good reputation and accreditation.
She said if there was anything for which she would want to be remembered, it would be helping to create a culture of excellence, meeting the needs of the population and bringing talented individuals into the department.
“It’s not easy to find qualified and committed people,” she said, “but we’ve been successful at that.”
Lore said she is retiring now because, after 34 years, she thought it was time.
“The job took a tremendous amount of energy,” she said. “My plan was to retire after my twins graduated college. But COVID hit and I thought I’d be abandoning the team, so I decided to stick around a little longer.”
She said she will take a break and reflect, and may return to private practice in clinical social work. If a young person were to ask her if they should enter public health, Lore said she would tell them to go where they could make a difference.
“I strongly believe in public service,” she said. “The title of someone in public service is public servant. How do you serve the public to the best of your abilities? That’s important to me.
“It’s interesting — with my kids, their generation, they have to feel that they’re really contributing,” she continued. “Money can be a motivation. But even if you pay them well, it doesn’t motivate their commitment to service.”
Lore said she has always been interested in helping people, whether in the health field or another, and she said social workers have a big impact on society.
“There’s a tremendous amount of social work needed,” she said. “In Bloomfield, they’ve done an excellent job on holding the line on homelessness.
“When it comes to the social aspects, Bloomfield is a winning community,” she continued. “Once you take away the ability for people to get mental assistance, when you don’t provide for basic needs, the fabric of the community starts to deteriorate.”