Friday, March 4, 2005
Carlisle Board of Health expands from three to five members
Most of us think of the Board of Health (BOH) as the permitters of
septic plans and inspectors of wells, with occasional forays into manure
regulations. In fact, these are three of their traditional functions:
important functions in a town like ours. However, the Carlisle BOH has
taken on new tasks in recent years, and has, in fact, more authority
by statute than any other board in town. Public health is a multifaceted
and fascinating realm, and vital to our common good.
Less septic, more policy
With a new emphasis on broader public health responsibilities, the BOH has streamlined its handling of simpler matters. For example, the BOH has decided not to review every septic plan at its monthly meetings. After review by consulting engineer Rob Frado, an uncomplicated plan is reviewed and approved by BOH Agent Linda Fantasia. This lightens the burden on the elected board members. Instead, they concentrate only on those plans that involve variance requests.
Actions like this have allowed the board to shift its efforts more to policy-making on important public health issues such as precautions for and control of West Nile virus, equine encephalitis, Lyme disease, regional cooperation and emergency preparedness, and to increasingly frequent and complex changes in state and federal health statutes and codes.
An animal inspector, an engineering consultant, a well inspector, and
a physician are part of a professional and semi-professional consulting
staff that has become critical to the handling of day-to-day tasks.
More regulations, challenges
In 1995, Title 5's new code for septic systems was the first radical change to the BOH's responsibilities. Hard upon that change came the Commonwealth's revisions of the food code, the code for recreational camps, and the sanitation code as it applies to housing. As the state revises and changes its regulations, it depends on municipalities to effect and enforce them. Fantasia reports, for example, that Massachusetts adopted most of the federal food code and added regulations of its own. The old licensing code for food served in public buildings focused on the facilities themselves, but the new regulations shifted the emphasis to the preparers of food. This put an entirely new slant on something as simple as a church supper, and threatened to severely restrict Carlisle's much-beloved neighborhood and village feel.
Faced with enacting and enforcing the new regulations, the BOH held a training course open to all non-profit organizations in town that certified someone in each group. Certification ensured that each group had a member who knew the regulations and could see that the group came "up to code" when serving food to the public.
Each municipality in the state needs people on its Board of Health
who can determine how best to facilitate new codes for their particular
Mosquitos, ticks, ground water
Volumes of new regulations are always a challenge, and the BOH is also
engaged in forming preventive and response plans to deal with threats
to public health, such as the diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks.
Since 9/11, emergency preparedness has become a hot-button issue requiring
the cooperation of all town and regional departments. The public health
component of emergency preparedness, protecting water resources and
getting medications out into communities, for example, is a key to the
success of any preparation plans, and the BOH is actively participating
in dealing with this issue regionally. In addition, according to Fantasia,
the current level of development, increase in affordable housing, and
uptick in 40B development applications have made the BOH "a key
player in the protection of Carlisle's ground water and general environment."
Seeking two new members
Currently, the BOH is a three-member board. This year at town elections, the BOH will increase its membership to five. Holland says that increasing the number of members will "strengthen the breadth of the board as well as make it more reasonable to be a board member," citing busy schedules as one of the hurdles faced by every board in town. Spreading the tasks and time commitments will make the board run more smoothly and be more responsive to the town's requirements.
Fantasia adds that all the people she knows who have been involved with the BOH "have enjoyed it, and felt that they have made a meaningful contribution to the town." She invites anyone to sit in on a meeting and declares, "This is a very social group. All our old board members still come to our Christmas parties."
Board members Michael Holland and Lisa Davis-Lewis are both civil engineers, and bring to the BOH their expertise and interests in planning, waste treatment, and protecting water resources. Chairperson Martha Bedrosian contributes a depth of knowledge in science education and medical research, and has a personal interest in public health and protecting natural resources.
Holland believes that citizens with a background and experience in engineering, law, medicine, or science would enjoy running for the BOH and would provide valuable technical assistance to the board. Fantasia adds, however, that anyone who is interested in doing something for the town should run for the BOH. "The board should be balanced," she says, "and it's most important for a candidate to have an understanding of Carlisle, a good feeling for the town."
© 2005 The