Colrain joins county public health service co-op

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2019 7:25:27 AM

COLRAIN – The county’s voluntary public health service cooperative grew this month, after another town became a member and a part-time health agent job was created.

The Colrain Selectboard voted March 4 to join the now 12-town cooperative. This week, a new part-time health agent, former Greenfield Health Director Nicole Zabko, is set to begin, Phoebe Walker of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments said.

Colrain will pay about $4,000 to be part of the cooperative for the rest of the year, Town Coordinator Kevin Fox said. Colrain will vote at its annual meeting in May to renew its membership at a yearly rate of $11,000. Town rates range from $2,000 to $19,000, based on size, permit, revenue, and level of participation.

“We’re doing this because the small towns just don’t have the wherewithal,” Colrain Board of Health Chair Michael Friedlander said. “It’s just becoming a very difficult path for small towns to meet the requirements.”

While the cooperative was established in 2012 by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Colrain refrained from joining to prevent townspeople from paying for services the Board of Health was already providing, Friedlander said. However, it has become increasingly clear that the Board of Health, a volunteer body, does not have the time or expertise to provide public health services on its own. Friedlander, a Board of Health member since 1995, estimates he has received 20 to 30 certifications during his tenure.

The cooperative is a response to Massachusetts requiring towns run public health services themselves, Walker said. The consortium is a supplement to Board of Health bodies, who have legal authority of their town. Four employees – a part-time nurse, a full-time health director, and as of next week, two full-time health agents – work for the consortium, providing an array of public health services including sanitation and nuisance complaint inspections, food safety permits, septic repairs and reviews, as well as a nurse.

The dozen towns in the cooperative include Monroe, Rowe, Heath, Colrain, Leyden, Charlemont, Buckland, Shelburne, Gill, Hawley, Conway and Deerfield. Ten towns have access to all available services, while Conway and Deerfield have signed up for some.

Heath Board of Health Chair Betsy Kovacs called the cooperative “critical,” as it gives towns access to public health experts they may not have otherwise.

“If we were not a part of the cooperative, it would be very expensive for us to hire on our own that level of expertise,” Kovacs said.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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