I am pleased to announce that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) today has named Lowell as one of eleven government agencies to be awarded a $20,000 grant under the Public Health District Incentive Grant Program. The Program is funded under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “Strengthening Public Health Infrastructure to Improve Health Outcomes” initiative.
The purpose of the program is to provide financial support for groups of municipalities to enter into formal, long term agreements to share resources and coordinate activities in order to improve the scope, quality, and effectiveness of local public health services for their combined populations. MDPH has received a five year award from CDC for the program. The RFR sought planning grant proposals from applicants representing groups of municipalities who seek to form public health districts. Receiving this grant enables Lowell to submit an application later this year under an additional RFR process to receive multi-year implementation grants.
The grant will allow staff from the City of Lowell to take a lead role in exploring the feasibility of forming a regional public health district beginning with the towns of Dracut and Tyngsboro, and possibly expanding into the neighboring municipalities of Chelmsford and Tewksbury in the future. The ultimate goal of the district would be to provide Public Health Nursing services in the areas of communicable disease surveillance and case management of reportable diseases as outlined by MGL, Ch. 111 to its members. The district will also seek to improve data reporting and management, coordination with various health service providers, and communication with those populations that have English as a second language.
A significant portion of the grant funding will be used to assess the communicable disease and other public health caseloads in Lowell, Dracut, and Tyngsboro, in order to provide baseline data for purposes of determining shared nursing staff needs. Grant funds will also be used to develop a shared governance model for the district. Each municipality shall retain its Board of Health legal authority. Both subjects will need to be addressed when applying for the implementation grants in the Fall of 2011.
Regionalization is increasingly seen as a key strategy for municipalities to continue providing core services in a climate of decreasing state aid. By leveraging economies of scale, it helps to ensure that public resources are being used as effectively and as efficiently as possible. Despite the obvious benefits, cities and towns may need to overcome a reluctance to consider the regionalization of several key services. Among the roadblocks encountered are a lack of funding necessary to determine if particular partnerships are feasible.
As always, I am open to any idea or concept that allows us to provide existing services in a more efficient manner. If formulated, this Public Health District will add to the list of regional partnerships that Lowell is already involved in including mutual aid for our police and fire services and providing water and wastewater services to surrounding towns. Special recognition goes to Frank Singleton, Lowell’s Public Health Director as well as Christine Connolly and Maria Ruggiero of the Lowell Health Department for writing and assembling the grant package.