Board of Health Members Offer Ways to Improve Pandemic Response

November 21, 2023

Coordination. Collaboration. Communication.

They are three general areas that the Bedford Board of Health feels warrant improvement from the most recent pandemic to the next one, whenever that may be.

The board, meeting on Nov. 13 with Health Department staff, completed a post-COVID evaluation process that took agenda time over the past several sessions.

After considering what worked well and what could have been done differently, board members culminated their evaluation by enumerating the next steps, to ensure better preparation.

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“We need to identify medical, public health, and science experts in the community who might be able to advise us,” said member Maureen Richichi.

Board chair Susan Schwartz agreed, suggesting “a list of partners,” local and regional, “whom we can rely on for different things.”

Richichi points to a community task force developed as a Northborough-Southborough collaborative that involved schools and Select Boards through municipal departments, and integrated residents with medical and scientific expertise.

Anita Raj said the chain of command among town departments, including schools, needs stronger definition. Schwartz said that includes clear roles and responsibilities. Richichi also cited the need to relieve “the toll of the stress experienced by staff.”

On the legislative level, said Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter, funds need to be released sooner to local agencies so testing can be timely. “It’s going to take pushback from the local boards to make that happen,” member Ann Kiessling said.

Porter added that during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, even when there were state funds the “testing resources” weren’t available.

The board should inform the state Department of Public Health that its guidance was “confusing,” Kiessling said, adding that the requirement for an independent health department in every city and town is part of the organizational challenge.

Richichi said population and other statistical discrepancies between the local and state data reports should be reconciled.

Another area that could be addressed regionally is communication, said member Bea Brunkhorst.  Schwartz said locally there should be a comprehensive communication plan. Members agreed that in case of a pandemic, an early community forum is warranted, and that communication be targeted to different demographics and localized media such as Facebook groups and other platforms used by residents.

Kiessling said guidelines issues by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017 present “very clear ideas about how to set a lot of these things up.”

Porter said she considers the entire evaluation process a model, and plans to share it with the other six members of the Great Meadows Public Health Collaborative.

That recently-formed alliance is intended “to collaboratively pool resources, increase staff capacity and expertise, attract additional funding, and deliver better health protections, programs, and outcomes.”

The other towns are Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston.

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