FRCOG welcomes new health agent

  • Lisa Danek Burke, at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • New health agent for the Cooperative Public Health Service, Lisa Danek Burke, at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments office in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Lisa Danek Burke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2019 4:24:51 PM

SHELBURNE — Lisa Danek Burke stood in a deep hole in Shelburne on Wednesday morning and watched as an engineer poured water, which trickled down through the soil layers.

This percolation test, or “perc” test, shows an engineer and a certified soil evaluator the drainage properties of the soil, which, in turn, will dictate what type of septic system can safely be put in the ground.

Perc tests are just a small part of what Danek Burke will be overseeing as a new health agent for the Cooperative Public Health Service, which is a health district under the umbrella of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

“The day in the life of a health (agent) is quite often standing outside for hours on end and watching water drain,” she joked.

Danek Burke’s role can involve inspections, ranging from soil and septic systems to food and animal care inspections, to helping residents navigate the permit process from her desk at FRCOG at 12 Olive St. in Greenfield.

As a health agent, Danek Burke holds numerous certifications that transform her into a professional soil evaluator, system inspector for housing inspections, and a registered sanitarian, which allows her to inspect everything from pools to food to housing.

“The health agents, they are the feet-on-the-ground for the (local) boards of health,” said Phoebe Walker, director of community services with FRCOG.

Health agents are necessary, Walker said, “for the boards of health to exercise their mandated duties — which are essentially to protect the public health of the residents of their towns.”

There are 11 different codes in Massachusetts that the boards of health need to uphold, Walker said.

“(Health agents) need to know what the law says and understand the science behind it,” she said, adding that the state codes are minimums and that local municipalities may have stricter standards, which health agents need to know as well.

Danek Burke has worked for decades as an engineer and also worked locally as a part-time health agent for close to 15 years.

“The biggest thing that I bring is a level of experience, and I’m really familiar with the area,” she said, adding that she has good relationships with local health boards.

For duties like overseeing perc tests, Danek Burke’s experiences both as an engineer and as a public health agent are extremely valuable, Walker said.

“She’s been on both sides of that interaction,” Walker said. “When an engineer proposes something, she will know if that really is the best fix for that situation.”

“I’m really excited because a lot of the work I’m familiar with. Even though it’s a new job, I’m not nervous about any of the work,” Danek Burke said. She will work for FRCOG for 22.5 hours per week.

Danek Burke graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and has more than 20 years of experience in engineering design, like designing septic systems.

Danek Burke’s interest in public health began in college — she switched her major from mechanical engineering to civil engineering because the latter incorporates environmental engineering. Upon graduation, she worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation.

In 2000 and with young children in tow, Danek Burke moved to Shelburne and then to Rowe. She began doing part-time engineering design work from her home and also worked part-time as Rowe’s health agent from 2003 until 2016, when Rowe joined the Cooperative Public Health Service.

“Now that my kids are older, I saw the opportunity for this position,” she said, adding that she wanted to get back into public health centered-work.

“(This role) really brings me back to that,” she said. “And I really enjoy working with people, rather than working from an office with my computer.”

Her first day was Nov. 6, but it has been fast-paced from the start.

“There’s plenty of work to do,” Danek Burke said. “I haven’t even had much of a chance to think about being busy because I’ve been really busy off the bat.”

Going forward, Danek Burke is interested in other environmental challenges that FRCOG is tackling and how that may impact public health.

“I’m really looking forward to understanding the different things that the FRCOG is involved with,” she said. “There are so many aspects that go beyond what I’m doing right now.”

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at or at 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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