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Regional health district wins $209K grant

GREENFIELD — The Cooperative Public Health Service, a regional health district that provides services for 10 Franklin County towns, has earned a three-year $209,000 grant from the state.

The money will allow the health district to expand on projects, like Lyme disease education and prevention, to a degree that would not have been possible otherwise, said Phoebe Walker, director of community services for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

It also will mean that the district, which started last year with grant funding, will have time to transition into a town-supported initiative. By 2015, when this grant runs out, Walker would like to see a fee structure in place that all towns are comfortable paying.

Walker said that Franklin County towns applied for this district incentive grant years ago but weren’t selected. But she said the state contacted the health district earlier this fall to let them know there was new money available.

According to the Eagle Tribune of North Andover, the state pulled $215,000 in August from the Merrimack Valley Health District, one of the original recipients of the grant. The newspaper said that the decision occurred after the Methuen City Council cut funding for its health director, who administered the grant. A department of public health spokeswoman did not comment when asked Wednesday about a connection between the two events.

Shared services

The Franklin County health district works with local boards of health, concentrating on four main areas of service: housing and summer camp inspections, food safety inspections, septic maintenance and public health nursing. Over 2,000 flu shots have been administered and 400 inspections performed since the district’s inception, said co-chair Randy Crochier at the district’s first annual meeting Tuesday night in Charlemont.

“Public health has a cost. Many of us were not paying anywhere near the cost of what we could be, but we also weren’t providing the services we could be,” said Crochier, who serves on the Gill Board of Health.

Since the health district employs a health agent and public health nurse, services like flu shots and inspections are now happening locally and faster than before. And, said Crochier, the district can connect towns with medical experts when needed.

“There’s three people on my board of health. None of us have a medical background,” he said. “You want us to look at dirt? We’re good. ... Medical reports, you look at and go, ‘Yeah, OK.’ And you set it aside.

“We (now) have someone who can take care of that.”

The health district serves Buckland, Conway, Charlemont, Deerfield, Gill, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe and Shelburne. Towns could choose to purchase some or all of the shared services, said Walker, and there’s still openings for other towns to join.

Lyme disease education

One of the areas that towns have pledged to focus on is Lyme disease prevention and education. Between May 2012 and May 2013, there were 34 confirmed or suspected cases of Lyme disease in the district’s 10 member towns.

The Cooperative Public Health Service has already made 150 warning signs that have been placed all over public trails and parks in the member towns.

Now the health district will use the additional grant money to focus on reaching people who may not be partaking in recreational activities, said Walker. Additional money will pay for billboards and bus advertisements that will roll out in the spring.

Emily Maiella, a naturopathic physician and founder of Valley Naturopathic Family Medicine in Monatgue, said at the health district’s Tuesday meeting that she believes that doctors tend to under-diagnose cases of Lyme disease.

She says she has seen cases where the disease, carried by deer ticks that are prevalent in wooded and grassy areas, enters the human body as few as four hours after its original bite.

But then, symptoms may not occur for weeks and the bulls-eye rash that’s infamously tied to the disease may not always show up on the body, she said.

And so she stressed the importance of getting the tick tested as soon as someone discovers it on their body, even if that means paying a $40 fee. If a place like the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Laboratory of Medical Zoology returns with a positive test, a person should try to pursue an antibiotics prescription of at least three weeks, she said.

A few attendees at the meeting said that during recent trips to Baystate Franklin Medical Center, physicians administered only a one-time dosage and said that the hospital did not test the ticks.

Kishi Talati, the medical director of emergency medicine at Baystate Franklin, said Wednesday that the hospital uses the guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control to treat Lyme disease.

“When a person comes to us with a tick bite, we remove the tick,” said Talati. “If they meet the CDC criteria for prophylactic treatment, they are treated right in our Emergency Department with antibiotics. If the tick is carrying Lyme disease, the antibiotic treatment will prevent the person from becoming infected.”

“At that point, our emergency intervention is complete,” he said. “If a patient wishes to keep the tick and submit it for testing, they are free to do so.”

Public health district officials said Tuesday night that they may talk to the hospital in recent weeks to discuss possible collaborations on Lyme disease treatment and testing.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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