Over the past 15 years, resources for local health departments have diminished at the same time that responsibilities of local health practitioners have increased significantly, not least of which in the area of emergency preparedness. Massachusetts has over 300 Local Boards of Health, many of which are chronically underfunded and these inverse trends have yielded a local public health workforce not always able to provide the 10 essential services of public health departments, putting their communities at risk and creating an environment of significant inequities across the Commonwealth in regards to access to public health services.
Faculty and staff in the Activist Lab have been actively working with public health partners for many years through the “MA Public Health Regionalization Project” to strengthen the Massachusetts public health system by creating a sustainable, regional system for equitable delivery of local public health services across the Commonwealth. Thanks to those efforts, in August 2016, the Massachusetts Legislature established the Special Commission on Local and Regional Public Health. The commission’s charge is to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of municipal and regional public health systems and to make recommendations regarding how to strengthen the delivery of public health services and preventive measures. The Activist Lab, including one of our activist fellows, MPH student Elizabeth Doyle, is providing assistance to the Office of Local and Regional Health (OLRH), Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), which is charged with overseeing the commission.
Regionalizing public health services offers the following benefits:
- Consistency and equity: Regionalizing promotes consistent standard of care and equal level of services
- Breadth of services: Regionalization can equip each local health department to deliver the range of services their specific community requires
- Best of the best: Regionalization allows communities to access the skills they need when they need them (even if those skills are not resident within their own health department)
- Economies of scale: Regionalization has been shown to offer economies of scale for communities who band together
- Flexibility: Local jurisdictions can choose from different models to ensure the best fit for their unique circumstances
- Access to funding: Larger districts have greater capacity to apply for grants and are more competitive in grant applications, potentially bringing additional resources to their communities
- Workforce development: Sharing resources, greater cooperation and communication, and more standardized training will yield a stronger and better prepared local public health workforce.
For more information, please visit the Massachusetts Public Health Regionalization page.