Can Baystate Franklin reach into community to improve health?

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center President Ron Bryant, left, studies information during a small group session of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments annual Community Health Improvement Plan meeting at the John Olver Transit Center, Tuesday afternoon.   Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon

  • Director of Community Services for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments addresses the group for the Community Health Improvement Plan meeting at the John Olver Transit Center, Tuesday afternoon. Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

  •  Leader of the Community Health Center Ed Sayers, middle, addresses his small group during the Franklin Regional Council of Governments annual Community Health Improvement Plan meeting at the John Olver Transit Center, Tuesday afternoon. Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

  • Ron Bryant Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/29/2019 11:04:05 PM

GREENFIELD — Baystate Franklin Medical Center President Ron Bryant began his address with a note about what hospitals do well for the community. 

“From a hospital standpoint, we’re very good at taking care of folks that come through the door,” said Bryant,  still in his first full-year as full-time president of the Greenfield hospital. Pivoting, he admitted the weaknesses of the hospital, too.

“When it comes to collaborating with communities and putting this together, this is where we need help,” he said at the annual Franklin County and North Quabbin Community Health Improvement Plan meeting Tuesday. 

With Bryant at the helm of Baystate Franklin since April, and first appointed as interim in November of 2017, he is looking for ways the hospital can address not just medical maladies like hypertension but also problems associated with housing. 

“Our job is to keep people out of the hospital, which is kind of crazy for a hospital administrator to say,” Bryant said the room full of community health providers at the John Olver Transit Center. “The more folks we can keep our of the hospital, the better off we are” as a community.

He said in the past couple years, partly with the changes in health care structures, he’s seen nationally more awareness and commitment from hospitals to think about issues beyond those coming into the emergency rooms and for surgeries. And what he’s seen in Franklin County, after working at hospitals across the country and as president at Baystate Noble in Westfield, is off the charts. 

“I think this community does this better than any other community where I’ve been,” Bryant said. “This is by far the most collaborative community I’ve seen.” 

Bracketing Bryant’s points were presentations recapping 2018 from members of the “CHIP” network, which is headed by Franklin Regional Council of Governments Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker.

In 2018, some of what CHIP worked on was to improve the number of certificated community health workers and recovery coaches; to improve dental services, including getting more health providers in the community to offer fluoride varnishes, which can dramatically increase health outcomes for a small cost; to boost funding for chronic disease self-management groups; and he noted the lack of methadone services for opioid addiction. 

Opioid Task Force Coordinator Deb McLaughlin explained the challenges the recovery community continues to face despite work to improve services. Preliminary data, paired with anecdotal information suggests 2018 may have been the worst year for opioid deaths in Franklin County and the North Quabbin with potential 20 fatalities, eclipsing 19 deaths in 2015. In 2017 there were nine confirmed deaths, but non-fatal overdoses continued to climb. Nationally and regionally, the rise of fentanyl has been attributed to more opioid-related deaths. 

McLaughlin mentioned the lack of sufficient methadone services in Greenfield, with the current sole provider capped off at 200 patients. She called it a “chronic issue” and in the North Quabbin there are no methadone services at all. 

“We still have a lot of work to do to save lives in our community,” McLaughlin said. 

Walker explained that some of the regional lobbying efforts, like for a Fair Share Tax that would tax millionaires, have come up short, but should not be deterred. Other efforts like increasing the minimum wage have made progress. At the meeting was a representative from the office of state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland. 

Other successes in the past year was a diabetes prevention program at the Greenfield YMCA, improvements with food services at the schools and lowering the use of alcohol and drugs among teens in the county, although vaping continues to be a major concern. 

There is significant work in the county, led in part by Rachel Stoler, community health program manager at the FRCOG, to increase the amount of local foods that are sourced for the kitchens of the county’s schools. 

Through a grant this past year, a consultant met with the schools, a report has been written up and a December meeting with superintendents have indicated progress. Plans are being cooked up, Stoler said, and will continue on this month. 

The loss of staff in the Greenfield Health Department, which is trying to fill vacanct inspector jobs following an unsteady year with a lack of funding or director, was also a major concern for Stoler and CHIP.  

Housing rehabilitation continues to move forward, Glen Ohlund of the Franklin Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority said. In 2018, the authority rehabbed 31 buildings at a total price of $840,000. The big problem comes with sober housing, Ohlund said. 

“We’re severely challenged when it comes to organized attempts of increasing more sober housing,” Ohlund said. 

And health equity remains a challenge in Franklin County, FRCOG’s Jeanette Voas said, based on an analysis of census data, as race, education and income continue to be prominent determinants of health in the area — “Things that shouldn’t have anything to do with our health.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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