To the Editor:
The Rochester Board of Selectmen and the Town Administrator have decided, on their own, to put an article on the Rochester Town Meeting Warrant to dissolve Rochester’s ties with the Marion Rochester Regional Health District. The Rochester Board of Health and the Marion Board of Health members have expressed their firm opposition to the article.
Many townspeople may ask, ‘what is the Marion Rochester Regional Health District?’ and ‘how does it serve the Town of Rochester?’
Back in 1989, the towns of Acushnet, Rochester and Marion formed a health district. Accordingly, each town voted to form a district for employing a health officer, necessary assistants and clerks, all of whom shall be appointed and removed by a joint committee composed of the Boards of Health of those towns. The employees of the district are under the direct supervision of the district members, who are also responsible for approving their compensation. The reason for forming the district was to provide administrative and professional expertise in public health matters to the Board of Health.
In 1997, the Town of Acushnet Board of Health members voted to leave the District. The reason for this was that development was at an all-time high and Acushnet needed a full-time agent.
So what does the Health Director do as an employee of the district? As Health Director, my duties are shared between the town of Marion and the town of Rochester. I enforce the many facets of Title 5, which includes the witnessing of percolation tests, reviewing proposed septic plans, conducting septic construction inspections and reviewing septic inspection reports for real estate sales. As the agent for the Boards of Health, I am also responsible for restaurant inspections, plan reviews for kitchens and housing inspections. In addition, I inspect summer camps for children and do water quality monitoring of beaches. I am also responsible for ensuring compliance with local Boards of Health and State-mandated regulations.
On the medical side, the Board of Health investigates communicable disease incidents, provides blood pressure monitoring, offers flu clinics for residents and monitors state reporting of mosquito born diseases, such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, in the area.
These are some of the many ways that the Health District services the towns. The way that the District is designed affords a collaboration of personnel and services provided by the public health nurses of both towns, who share information, cover clinics for each other, and provide specialized services, such as Mantoux testing for both towns. A perfect example of how the collaboration works and how Rochester benefits from the District occurs yearly with our flu clinic. Planning for flu clinics is a work in progress between the public health nurse in Rochester and the public health nurse Marion. A lot of effort goes into scheduling clinics, ordering the vaccine and supplies, scheduling the clinic location, advertising, getting forms ready, packing up supplies and carting them to and from the clinic.
This past January, we had an influenza epidemic. Persons that were not immunized during the fall became ill with the flu. Marion purchased flu vaccine and Rochester was not able to because of a shortage of vaccine. Because we have a Health District, we were able to allocate 50 doses to Rochester. Collaboration of services through the Health District goes a long way to solving problems.
Because we have a District, we work under one management and do not have to duplicate work and services. Massachusetts Department of Public Health has made regionalization a priority to effectively and efficiently address the public health needs of Massachusetts’s residents. For many communities in the state, this requires forging new relationships. Rochester and Marion have this relationship through the Health District.
Do we really need to move backward by disbanding the District that has worked so well for 24 years? Do we want to move to a system that increases costs to both communities by creating inefficiencies and duplicating services? I think not.
Regionalization has provided the District the opportunity to apply for grants that benefit public health in both communities. The number of people served by the District is greater than the number of people served by each community and this is a relevant factor in the awarding of grants. Examples of the grants we have obtained include the Tobacco Control grant whereby one person worked on a regional basis to write regulations and keep our kids safe from the tobacco industry. We got that grant because we served more than one community.
In 1990, we got a recycling grant for a recycling truck for both towns. In addition, we were recently notified that a grant application we had submitted for the Shingles vaccine had been successful. We applied for this grant as a District because of the efficiencies of meeting the needs of the towns as a district and because the Commonwealth placed a premium value on regionalized grants, granting more funds to a district application than if each town applied separately.
I encourage Rochester residents, especially those who have benefited from the Board of Health, to come to town meeting and vote your support to keep the Health District in town to serve the people. If you have sought a building permit, had a septic system installed, or had a pending real estate sale, then you know first hand how efficient the Health District is. I am able to sign off quickly on applications because I have help of others, i.e., food inspectors, so that your permit application is a top priority when I get to the office. Other services, such as an influenza shot or medical question, are answered by a knowledgeable nurse.
Both the Marion and Rochester Boards of Health have expressed their firm opposition to severing the Health District. They recognize the value of regionalized services offered through the District. Remember, the budget is scrutinized and reviewed by the six Board of Health members representing both towns. If those members thought this was a good move, they would be in agreement with the Selectmen.
Regionalization is about saving money. It is done through the provision of effective and efficient professional services. I know the Marion Rochester Health District has proved this by providing services to the residents of the towns of Rochester and Marion. The town will lose these efficiencies by withdrawing from the District.
Rochester residents, I urge you to vote NO on Article 10 and keep the Marion Rochester Regional Health District working for the Boards of Health.
Karen Walega, MPH, CHO, RS
Marion Rochester Regional Health District Director
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