News & Events

Layoff of Public Health Nurses in Lawrence Will Jeopardize City’s Public Health Program

Lawrence, Mass.—The decision by the City of Lawrence today to lay off two of its public health nurses is a shortsighted and dangerous decision that will leave the already understaffed public health department with only one nurse to serve a city of more than 77,000 residents, with an undocumented population that pushes the total population to more than 100,000 people. The public health nurses serve all the people of Lawrence, providing vital preventive services to immunize against, track and manage a variety of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, the flu and West Nile Virus.

Three years ago, there were three nurses to serve the city. Two nurses have been doing the job, as one of those positions was left unfilled. After today, there will be just one nurse overseeing the public health of the entire city, as well as other surrounding communities who are impacted by programs the department provides. This includes a chest clinic to monitor TB-exposed patients which serves a number of communities.

The decision to lay off one nurse and to eliminate the unfilled position represents a savings of $35,000 in salary out of a budget of more than $198 million. According to the nurses, this savings comes at the expense of the health and safety of the entire population of the city. "There is no way that one nurse can manage the public health mandate of a city this size" said Brian Zahn, the lone remaining nurse in the department and the chair of the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association which represents the nurses. "One nurse cannot provide the services of this department and, as a result residents of this community are being place at risk for harm.”

Fact Sheet on Public Health Nurses

  • A public health nurse is a special type of registered nurse who focuses on providing health promotion and protection to an entire community or population. There are currently just two public health nurses serving a population of more than 77,000 residents in the City of Lawrence.
  • Public Health Nurses are on the front lines of infectious disease surveillance, control and prevention. They are a vital link in the monitoring, control and prevention of the spread of more than 20 communicable diseases such as: the Flu, Tuberculosis, Salmonella, Hepatitis, Lyme Disease, and West Nile Virus.
  • In preventing the spread of disease, public health nurses are responsible for immunization of vulnerable segments of our population against the spread of disease. For example, more than 1,800 Flu Vaccines are administered to city residents each year.
  • The nurses also provide all varieties of childhood immunizations to those who can not afford them, such as children living in family homeless shelters, etc.
  • The nurses track at least 120 residents each month that may have been exposed to TB and are now living in the community, and they make a number of visits each month to the homes of those residents with active TB to ensure they are receiving proper care and are taking their medication. In so doing, they prevent the spread of this highly infectious disease while at the same time assist those infected in getting well.
  • Lawrence Public Health Nurses also provide a health care safety net for the city’s elderly and disabled residents. For example, they offer blood pressure monitoring, blood sugar screenings for possible diabetics, weight monitoring and nutrition counseling as well as medication counseling.