Metacomet Public Health Alliance: Expanding Public Health Services
Jeanine Murphy, left, and Lauren Hewitt, Metacomet Public Health Alliance Nurses.
By Grace Allen
The Metacomet Public Health Alliance was formed in the spring of 2021 as a new regional health department serving the towns of Norfolk, Wrentham and Franklin. Thanks to a shared services grant, the initiative is expanding public health services in all three towns.
According to Jeanine Murphy, the Regional Senior Public Health Nurse, initial alliance efforts have been concentrated on providing expanded inspectional services, public health nursing services, and emergency preparedness coordination for the three towns.
“The three contiguous communities recognize that working together on some public health challenges can be more effective than addressing them alone as individuals,” said Murphy.
Blythe Robinson, Norfolk’s town administrator, says the alliance has allowed the town to greatly expand its public health services. The arrangement means Norfolk now has access to Wrentham’s public health nurses, which made it possible to hold both a COVID vaccine clinic and a flu clinic last fall, as well as the weekly “Ask the Nurse” clinics in the senior center. In the past, Norfolk had to contract with the Visiting Nurses Association for public health nursing services.
The medical equipment loan program has also greatly expanded for all three towns.
The alliance also means that Norfolk now shares a dedicated public health agent to handle mandated food inspections and housing code issues, among other things. In the past, the role was a contracted, very part-time position.
“With technology, our food inspections are better tracked and managed, and we can follow up on other matters that arise in a timelier manner,” noted Robinson.
Franklin has hired a public health nurse and an epidemiologist to assist with contract tracing, and the towns are working collaboratively to provide not only public health nursing services but expanded disease surveillance as well because of the overwhelming number of positive COVID cases.
Public Health Nurse Murphy says the pandemic and state funds for the grant expedited the formation of the alliance but plans for its formation had already been in the works. The Office of Local and Regional Health (OLRH) of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is overseeing the grant, along with Kevin Sweet, Wrentham’s town administrator. Wrentham serves as the lead community for the alliance.
Prior to the formation of the alliance, Wrentham’s public health nurses were focused on community outreach and education. The onset of the pandemic in March of 2020, however, drastically changed their job. Their primary focus now is to disseminate constantly changing quarantine and isolation information to the public, as well as run COVID clinics in a quest to get all residents vaccinated.
“We still keep in touch with our vulnerable population and we assist with referrals to appropriate resources,” explained Murphy. “We will make home visits if needed but we are encouraging families to take a more active role in the care of their loved ones.”
She added that the nurses continue to work with Wrentham’s Housing Authority as well as the Senior Center to make sure the town’s seniors are getting the care they need. Residents are encouraged to contact the nurses’ office for loans of electronic pill dispensers, made available by a grant from the Sweatt Fund. The Sweatt Fund, intended for the care of Wrentham’s town common and trees, is also used for expenditures not covered by the town budget.
The Metacomet Public Health Alliance will soon have a website up and running, noted Murphy.