Regional health district idea gets money

 

Greenfield Recorder 03/29/2012, Page C01

By CHRIS CURTIS

Recorder Staff

A regional health district designed to shore up and fill gaps in small-town services has won startup funding.

The Franklin Regional Council of Governments won a $119,375 grant to establish a cooperative program to help six towns provide health services that are difficult to provide individually, like inspections of restaurants, septic systems and apartments.

The towns to participate are Buckland, Charlemont, Deerfield, Gill, Hawley and Monroe. The grant will last about one year. After that, the towns would have to fund the cooperative.

Phoebe Walker, FRCOG director of community services, said once the grant ends the hope is to fund the program with a mixture of additional grants, town money already earmarked for public health services and possibly the income from fees charged for inspections and permits.

Finding a sustainable financial model will be the first priority of the committee now forming to oversee the program.

In six months, other towns in Franklin and Hampshire counties can join if they want, Walker said.

The plan focuses on four areas: Community sanitation, food inspections, regulation of private wells and septic systems and public health nursing.

The community sanitation category includes housing complaints and health code enforcement, recreational camp inspections and permitting, pool inspections, lead checks and handling of hoarding cases.

The food inspections category includes restaurant, school, public kitchen, bed-and-breakfast and temporary establishment inspections.

The category dealing with wells and septic systems provides for monitoring of those systems by a trained and certified agent.

Public health nursing includes public health clinics, information events and containment of contagious diseases.

Some towns have part-time health agents, use the FRCOG health agent or have health board members working part-time for a stipend to fill that role as far as possible, Walker said.

Deerfield signed on only for the community sanitation and public health nursing portions of the program.

“The new shared department is a huge leap forward for the participating towns and the FRCOG, and represents the results of over a year of careful planning and hard work on the part of many board of health and select board members,” Walker said.

Walker said the grant contract should be finalized in April and she is hoping to launch the program May 1.

In the meantime, Walker said the towns are appointing members to an oversight board to govern the program, which will be housed in the FRCOG’s Greenfield offices and staffed by FRCOG employees.

The COG was also awarded a $19,000 Community Innovation Challenge grant to implement its regional dog officer control and kennel program, which will be run by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The regional kennel will serve 12 of Franklin County’s towns, including Greenfield, Montague and Deerfield.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.comor 413-772-0261, ext. 257