News & Events

Letter to Mr. O’Brien, Mayor Lukes and Members of the Worcester City Council

April 24, 2009

City Manager Michael V. O’Brien
City Hall
455 Main St
Worcester, MA 01608
Cc: Mayor Lukes and Worcester City Council
Re: Call to protect public health in the city budget

Dear Mr. O’Brien, Mayor Lukes and Members of the Worcester City Council:

We are writing from a shared position of urgent concern for the fate of public health in the city of Worcester.  There is a critical role for public health in protecting residents’ health and safety and in achieving health equity for all populations in the city. We urge you to carefully consider the likely outcomes of cuts to public health in the City of Worcester FY10 budget and to restore these critical government services. 

The City of Worcester Department of Health and Human Services/Public Health Division is the foundation of the local public health system that comprises public-and-private-sector health care providers, academia, community-based organizations, business, the media, and other local and state governmental entities. Restoring funding to the Worcester DHHS/Public Health Division will ensure the following:

Public health programs protect Worcester’s most vulnerable residents and reduce health disparities.  Cuts to public health disproportionately impact underserved populations. The Worcester DHHS/Public Health Division connects people with personal health services, including preventive and health promotion services in the community while advocating for development of needed programs and services in underserved populations to include underage binge drinking and opioid overdose prevention programs and continuously monitoring the quality and accessibility of public health services.

Public health ensures community preparedness. As a result of extensive and ongoing preparation, the Worcester DHHS/Public Health Division is trained to respond to communicable disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and acts of terrorism. The department coordinates delivery of drugs, supplies, and provisions to victims and populations at risk, while keeping the public informed and serving as the network hub for community hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers.

Public health investments prevent future health care crises and costs. The Worcester DHHS/Public Health Division gathers and analyzes community data to determine health risks. Programs such as screening, immunization, smoking prevention, obesity prevention and infection control prevent poor health status and can reduce the need for costly medical care.  Public health nurses also identify and stop the spread of infectious diseases in the community, preventing more serious outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as tuberculosis. Cuts to these programs will lead to increases in costly preventable illnesses that will hurt our families and communities, burden our health care system, and reduce productivity and learning.

These programs and services are critical to not only the physical, but also to the economic health of the city of Worcester.  Please recognize the core value of public health- the prevention of expensive illnesses and injuries down the road—by ensuring that its programs are spared from devastating cuts.

In an April 14, 2009 Worcester Telegram and Gazette article, “With Many Layoffs, City Quizzed on How it Will Serve the Neediest,” Michael Gilleberto, staff assistant for City Manager O’Brien was attributed as saying the city intends to sustain core operations of the Public Health Division by forming partnerships with local hospitals, health providers, and colleges that have expertise in public health.

In light of this, we ask you to share your plans with the community regarding the future of the Worcester Department of Health and Human Services/Public Health Division and allow community members to inform this plan in a public forum.

While public and private collaborations such as these are essential for a public health department to meet all of the needs of a city the size of Worcester, we are concerned the public health department will not be able to perform its statutory and regulatory responsibilities without adequate public infrastructure. These responsibilities include communicable disease surveillance, response, and control services. In order to have appropriate central authority and timely response to any disease outbreak or emergency, it is essential to maintain sufficient core City public health personnel.  Additionally, it is vital to maintain independent government authority to determine health policy and priorities as well as provide coordinated services. Partnerships are complementary and cannot supplant core government responsibilities. In order to be most effective and truly reach all residents, Worcester needs to keep the “public” in public health.

We stand with you as the community and all of us weather severe budget shortfalls and are willing to work together to develop a plan that meets Worcester’s public health needs in this environment. We support additional state measures to increase revenues in order that local communities can sustain critical services including public health. But we oppose the near complete elimination of the Public Health Division, and we urge that the City restore critical government public health capacity.

Massachusetts Public Health Association
Massachusetts Nurses Association
Center for Living and Working
Worcester District Medical Society
James B. Broadhurst, MD, Chair, Public Health Cmte., Worcester Dist. Medical Society
Dr. Stan Levenson, DMD, Member, Worcester Board of Health
Dr. Wayne Glazier, MD, Member, Worcester Board of Health
Abigail Averbach, MS, Member, Worcester Board of Health
Neighbor to Neighbor
The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts
Central Massachusetts Center for Healthy Communities
Matilde Castiel, MD
Aaron Mendel, MD
The Latin American Health Alliance
Central Massachusetts AFL-CIO
Joseph P. Carlson, President, Central Massachusetts AFL-CIO
Mark P. Bilotta, CEO, Colleges of Worcester Consortium


Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery
Carole J. Thompson, Ph.D., CEO, The Why Not Stop Project
Aids Project Worcester
Ken Cameron, Vice President of Student Affairs, Becker College
Denise Derrigrand, Dean of Students, Clark University
Charles J. Oroszko, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Worcester State College
Jacqueline Peterson, Vice President for Student Affairs, College of the Holy Cross
Susan C. Wyckoff Vice President of Academic Affairs, Colleges of Worcester Consortium
Massachusetts Senior Action Council
Suzanne Cashman
Stephanie Chalupka, EdD, RN, Professor and Coordinator Master of Science in Community/Public Health Nursing Program, Dept. of Nursing, Worcester State College
Alliance to Defend Health Care
Brenda Jenkins, Worcester Central Branch YMCA and Mosaic Culture Complex
HOPE Coalition
Laurie Ross

(list in progress)

We are holding a press conference on Wednesday, April 29 at 11 am in front of The Department of Health and Human Services, 25 Meade Street in Worcester. We are building the list of endorsing organizations until Wednesday to announce at the press conference.

For more information, contact Sara Kanevsky, Central MA Organizer for the Massachusetts Public Health Association via email or phone 508-414-0976.