Deerfield committed to withdrawing from FRCOG health district

Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2021 4:09:39 PM
Modified: 12/30/2021 4:09:13 PM

DEERFIELD — Standing by a June 30 vote, the Selectboard agreed to pull out of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ (FRCOG) Cooperative Public Health Service Health District, which provides several services to member towns.

FRCOG sent a letter to Deerfield officials on Dec. 13, asking the town to clarify its position on leaving the health district before the end of December. Since the Selectboard voted to leave the district on June 30, FRCOG will use that date as a marker of intent for leaving, and the town will officially withdraw July 1, 2022.

Over the course of its Dec. 15 meeting and this week’s meeting, the Selectboard deliberated on the decision before coming to the agreement that it will set out to hire its own part-time nurse and join Greenfield, Montague and Sunderland in a partnership that has received a contact tracing grant from the state. FRCOG receives the same grant, but the Department of Public Health stated a town can only be part of one contact tracing grant.

The motivation for pulling out of the district comes after building frustration with the shared public nurse component, which Board of Health Chair Carolyn Shores Ness said is not providing enough time for the town’s seniors. The health district also provides other services like inspections, which the town already does on its own.

“I am much more willing to work on something that works for us,” Shores Ness said at the Dec. 13 meeting. “COVID is not going away. … Our seniors just weren’t getting the hours.”

The town had initially joined the Cooperative Public Health Service Health District to retain the services of nurse Lisa White, but as the pandemic stretched resources thin, Shores Ness said they weren’t seeing White as often.

“If we’re not getting Lisa, which is why we joined the health district, let’s see if we can get a new Lisa, a new wonderful person,” she said.

In joining the partnership with Greenfield, Montague and Sunderland, Shores Ness said getting more town autonomy and more potential funding is a positive for Deerfield.

“I feel like it’s a win-win for us,” she said. “Being in the shared district with Greenfield, Montague and Sunderland, I feel like we’re going to be able to attract additional dollars.”

Fellow Selectboard member Trevor McDaniel, however, was not sold on the idea because of the potential transition period of leaving the health district and hiring a new nurse. Based on those concerns, the board agreed to table the Dec. 13 discussion until Wednesday’s meeting.

During Wednesday’s discussion, Shores Ness assured her fellow board members she has someone who is willing to volunteer time for the town if necessary.

She reiterated that a transition would provide additional hours per week of public nurse time for seniors in town, which has been sorely lacking as the pandemic has dragged on.

“The bottom line is our seniors are not getting the services,” Shores Ness said Wednesday night. “We’re working toward more services for the seniors. … I feel that every senior is going to be completely satisfied that we’re doing more than we’re doing now.”

Rather than a few hours once a week at the South County Senior Center, Shores Ness proposed a part-time nurse who would work three four-hour days from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Senior Center.

McDaniel and Selectboard Chair David Wolfram said their biggest concern is the transition period and potential to leave the town without a nurse for a period of time, but they trust Shores Ness to come through with a plan.

“This has given me the most anxiety of any vote in a while, but I understand where you’re wanting to move,” McDaniel said. “I trust you have a vision.”

“If everything isn’t in place, we may be letting our seniors down,” Wolfram said, “which I am concerned about.”

Town Administrator Kayce Warren noted this transition has “a lot of moving parts” and more information to plan with would be helpful, to which McDaniel said they needed to decide now, regardless of whether they are ready.

“We are jumping off a cliff a bit,” he said. “You never have all the information you want when you have to make a decision.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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