, Salem, MA

March 28, 2013

Regional public health program coming together

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — Eight area communities are looking to collaborate on public health issues, fueled by a $325,000 state grant.

The proposed North Shore Shared Public Health Services Program will include Salem, Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Lynn, Marblehead, Nahant and Swampscott.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has asked the City Council’s permission to enter into an inter-municipal agreement to join the program. The issue is on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting at 7 at City Hall, 93 Washington St.

Public health personnel from the eight communities have been meeting for roughly a year. Lynn and Swampscott have already signed the agreement, said Larry Ramdin, Salem’s health agent.

The program was recently awarded a $325,000 grant, stretched over four years, from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The group’s first focus will be on indoor air quality, smoke-free housing and public awareness of asthma triggers.

The eight communities will retain their own boards of health and local autonomy but collaborate on regional issues.

“(It will) enhance what we’re already doing,” Ramdin said. “It opens up the door to acquire more resources that we normally wouldn’t have. ... Citizens might see us engaging them in areas that we were unable to in the past.”

Its first issue — indoor air quality and its link to asthma — is “a chronic issue that we’re trying to reduce,” Ramdin said.

In addition to collaborative programs, the program will allow for shared environmental health inspection services, according to agreement, which lasts for five years.

Salem would be the program’s “lead municipality,” which means the city would contract, employ and provide office space for any program staff or operations, according to the agreement.

“Any chance to work together, I’m definitely supportive of that,” Driscoll said yesterday. “We definitely feel public health doesn’t stop at any one town or city line.”

The state grant was awarded as part of a program, which is meant to encourage regional public health efforts.

Salem and Peabody had discussions about consolidating public health services under one manager in 2009. At the time, Driscoll estimated that the move would save $63,000 a year between the two cities and nearly double the staff available to serve public health needs. The idea received praise from the Salem Chamber of Commerce, North Shore Medical Center and the state DPH, but the Salem Board of Health rejected it.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.