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Lt. gov. praises public health district as regionalization success

Recorder/Paul Franz
Glen Ayers, Regional Health Agent for the FRCOG, Lt Gov. Tim Murray, Randy Crochier, a Gill selectman and Board of Health member and Wagon Wheel Co-owner John Miller tour the kitchen at the Wagon Wheel restaurant in Gill on Thursday.

Recorder/Paul Franz Glen Ayers, Regional Health Agent for the FRCOG, Lt Gov. Tim Murray, Randy Crochier, a Gill selectman and Board of Health member and Wagon Wheel Co-owner John Miller tour the kitchen at the Wagon Wheel restaurant in Gill on Thursday.

GREENFIELD — Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray lauded Franklin County’s regional public health district Thursday as a successful example of how towns can collaborate to share services with one another.

During a 45-minute roundtable discussion in the John W. Olver Transit Center, local board of health members and officials from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments updated Murray on the progress of the Cooperative Public Health Service — an eight-month-old regionalized health district that serves 10 Franklin County towns.

The 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. It was recently awarded a $68,000 state grant.

Before joining the district, many service towns did not host flu clinics or use an online disease surveillance system, said Phoebe Walker, director of community services for the COG. And about half of the towns’ septic inspections had been previously done by uncertified or inadequately trained individuals, she said.

Towns pay for services performed by a regional health agent and public health nurse. It’s the kind of collaboration that Murray has advocated for across the state.

“We want to get as many conversations going as possible because we know that it’s encouraging a conversation around how can we do things better, how can we do things most cost effectively,” said Murray.

Sometimes that’s hard to do, he said, because even small things like high school football rivalries can cause communities to compete against one another, rather than collaborate.

Shelburne Selectman John Payne — whose town joined the district this year only for public health nursing services — said he is wary of the push for regionalization, fearing its potential to cause bureaucratic delays.

“We don’t like people from away telling us what to do, particularly when it feels like an unfunded mandate,” he said.

Other board of health officials rushed to the health district’s defense, saying that all members were participating voluntarily and that its oversight board ensured that local opinions would be heard.

Murray appreciated Payne’s argument, and said after the event that he’s heard it echoed in many cities and towns throughout the state.

“Are we going to lose control or autonomy? That’s a legitimate question and a fear,” he said. “But by getting people around the table and talking about it ... more often than not you can allay those concerns and save money and improve the quality of service.”

Manufacturing visit

Earlier on Thursday, Murray visited the Greenfield-based manufacturing company Valley Steel Stamp. Owner Steven Capshaw has been leading a campaign to improve job-entry channels through Franklin County Technical School and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board.

Murray, who called the Greenfield shop a “first-class facility,” has been touting manufacturing across the state as a chance for people to find good-paying jobs in a growing industry. Many people have inaccurate impressions of what manufacturing is today, he said.

“They think it’s something back in the ’40s and ’50s with the open fire and soot and dust. Many of these manufacturing facilities are as clean as a hospital,” said Murray. “The more parents and educators and the greater public is aware of that, I think they’ll be more inclined to encourage their kids ... to look into this as a career field.”

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

Was Mr. Shores at the same meeting that I was? Selectman Payne was the only individual present to express reservations about regionalization and managed to conflate it with the current situation with school districts, which have a different form and function. Perhaps that's why his remarks made it into the article, else there couldn't be the mandatory "two sides to the story." As a result, Recorder readers didn't get a full and accurate reporting of the event.

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