Board of Health to Evaluate Community Covid Response

March 9, 2023

The Bedford Board of Health is embarking on an evaluation of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This gives us a start at looking at what happened, how was it handled, and especially what we should do next time,” said member Maureen Richichi, who drafted a framework for the process.

The only disagreement was over the scope of the analysis. Member Ann Kiessling said the board would be the best vehicle to study the response of all town departments. Her colleagues agreed, but they want the board to conduct its own review first.

“I think the only responses we can take responsibility for are ours,” Richichi said. “I think we really need to look internally first. The job we do will inform how well the community response goes.”

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Richichi said her efforts to find a model framework were unsuccessful, so she assembled the framework. Board Chair Susan Schwartz confirmed that she couldn’t find a precedent from other towns, or on the website of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.

Richichi’s process involves examining a series of “functional capabilities” and how the board and professional staff handled them. These include emergency preparation, communication, community engagement and partnership, and infection control.

“What worked well? What challenges did we encounter? What was learned? What can the board and department do differently? And how can we prepare for the future?” Richichi posed. 

Schwartz said she also would like to know the effectiveness of the department’s messaging and resources.

Member Bea Brunkhorst said she would like to see a timeline, “to understand what did we know and when.” She also suggested that the state Department of Public Health may have a template for an evaluation. “These questions should be measurable,” she said.

But Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, said the state agency will not have the model. And Richichi added, “I don’t think we are talking about numbers.” To what would they be compared, she wondered. “Did we marshal our resources? Did we respond to community needs? These are not measurables.”

“We really are trying to look at our processes and how we managed this pandemic according to what was in our purview, using the resources that we had at hand,” Richichi explained. That’s how I approached it.”

“Somebody has to review how did the community manage a pandemic,” Kiessling said. 

Schwartz replied that she prefers “looking first in-house. It’s a draft template. Then we can see if there are additional questions for a broader response and figure out whether that’s in our purview.”

“We’re not going to be doing this today,” she added, “I just want to get the underlying guideline for how we are going to do the analysis.” 

Katharine Dagle, Assistant Health Director, said that prioritizing the internal analysis “will help us develop questions to ask the community.” 

Kiessling mused, “What questions will the community want to ask us?” She added, “Maybe we can get input from residents on what will be helpful to them.”

Later in the meeting, Julie Genova, community nurse, told the board that 69 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Bedford last month. “Our numbers continue to improve. I think we’re heading in a good direction.” Genova noted that there were only two cases of influenza reported in February.

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