By Bob Katzen
The House 149-0, (Senate on a voice vote without a roll call), approved a law to improve the delivery of public health services through enhanced collaboration between local boards of health and regional health districts.
A key provision creates a State Action for Public Health Excellence Program to encourage boards of health and regional health districts to adopt practices that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of local public health services. The program would also provide grants to improve these health systems and requires not less than 33 percent of the grants go to cities and towns with a median household income below the state average.
Other provisions include the state providing at least four annual free public health educational and training opportunities to boards of health and regional health district officials; and setting minimum standards for local public health services.
Each of the state’s 351 cities and towns has its own board of health which is designed to ensure many health-related items including food safety in restaurants, response to public health emergencies, housing code violations and water quality at beaches and pools. Cities and towns have vastly different staffing levels and most small towns lack a full-time staff.
“Public health departments of the 351 communities of the commonwealth deal with issues seen and unseen across a wide range, from water quality and effective sanitation to substance use disorders and suicide prevention,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham). “These are the issues and concerns of the quality of life in Massachusetts. This bill is vitally important and timely given our current concerns over emergency preparedness with infectious diseases such as … [the coronavirus].”
“This legislation will work toward ensuring each resident of the commonwealth has access to the public health services they need to live a healthy life, regardless of their zip code or the size of their community,” said co-sponsor Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury). “[The bill] will significantly strengthen our local and regional health systems by tackling many of the financial and operational burdens municipalities face.”