News & Events

Save the public health services,’ city coalition urges (DS)

David’s Note:

Great story in today’s Worcester Telegram & Gazette regarding our campaign to protect public health services in Worcester.  The MNA  has been working with the Mass Public Health Association to plan this and other activities to build a coalition to support our members and the City of Worcester.  Next up is a rally in front of the Worcester City Hall on Tuesday at 5:30. 

Nurse Sandra Early tells the group at the rally she will lose her job tomorrow if the cuts go through. (T&G Staff/CHRISTINE PETERSON)

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WORCESTER —  Warning that cuts to the city’s Department of Health & Human Services will make the city more vulnerable to outbreaks like the swine flu, a newly formed coalition is lobbying the city to retain services that are on the chopping block.

The coalition held a press conference outside the department’s Meade Street offices yesterday, with people holding signs that said “Save the public health services” and “Keep the ‘public’ in public health.”

The coalition wrote a letter to City Manager Michael V. O’Brien April 24, and plans to hold a rally at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday outside the City Council hearing on the health department’s budget. So far, Mr. O’Brien has not responded to the letter, organizers said.

“We urge the city’s leadership to consider restoring these services,” said Stephanie Chalupka, a professor and coordinator of the public health nursing program at Worcester State College. “These cuts will disproportionally affect disadvantaged populations in the city.”

Ms. Chalupka said eliminating nursing positions would make it difficult for the city to respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases, natural disasters or acts of terrorism.

As part of Mr. O’Brien’s proposal to balance the budget, four of seven public health nurses would be laid off. That would leave two nurses, as one nurse whose position would not be cut is currently on medical leave. Overall public health staffing in the city is to be reduced from 20 positions to five. Also lost with the cuts will be immunization clinics, in which more than 2,000 free vaccines were distributed in the last 12 months; and an array of wellness services.

With two nurses, Mr. O’Brien has reported to the City Council, the department will have staff to handle state-mandated functions: tuberculosis case management, infectious disease surveillance and reporting, sign-off on death certificates, and body art (tattoo) regulation.

Another speaker at yesterday’s rally, Dr. Bruce Karlin, president of the Worcester District Medical Society, said the city is currently prepared to deal with emergencies. It will not be after the cuts, he said.

“We are prepared because we have a robust department,” Dr. Karlin said. “If we take apart what has taken so long to put together, we could have serious problems. Please reconsider (the cuts).”

Mr. O’Brien disputed the statements.

“We have planned and prepared for a variety of scenarios. We are ready,” he said.

He said that 300 city jobs are proposed to be slashed, and worsening economic conditions could lead to 490 jobs cut. He said he cannot undo the planned cuts.

“It’s an unfortunate fact of this economy that has forced the public and private sectors to downsize,” he said. “I look forward to the day when we could restore wellness programs and the traveling immunization programs.”

One of the nurses who will be laid off on Friday, Sandy Early, called the cuts “shortsighted and dangerous.” The department handled 300 communicable disease cases last year, nearly one a day.