News & Events

As U.S. launches swine flu emergency, Worcester eliminates staff that protects city

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
May 2009 Edition

As the nation mobilized to confront the intensifying outbreak of swine flu, a coalition of more than 30 civic, community, labor and health care organizations/leaders held a press a conference on April 29 in front of the Worcester Department of Health and Human Services to launch a campaign to preserve public health services in the city of Worcester—the very services that would protect the residents of the state’s second largest city from swine flu, as well as 150 other infectious diseases.

The event, organized by the Massachusetts Public Health Association, featured speeches by a number of local public health experts who joined the growing coalition. A joint letter of concern from the coalition was delivered by these same experts to City Manager Michael V. O’Brien, Mayor Konstantina Lukes and the Worcester City Council. The letter announced the coalition’s opposition to the recently announced budget cuts that eliminated virtually all services provided by the city’s public health department. Public health services slated for elimination by these cuts include: surveillance control and prevention of numerous infectious diseases; immunization clinics to protect vulnerable children and adults; health services and screening for the elderly; and emergency preparedness and response to natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks.

“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,” said Dr. Stephanie Chalupka, public health researcher, registered nurse, and member of the Massachusetts Public Health Association in Worcester.

The letter also responded to recent public statements made by members of the City Manager’s staff in the media, alluding to the possibility of the city “forming partnerships with local hospitals, health providers, and colleges that have expertise in public health” as the sole means of compensating for the elimination of city services.

“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, it is vital to maintain independent government authority to determine health policy and priorities as well as provide coordinated services,” said Valerie Bassett, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. “Worcester needs to keep the ‘public’ in public health.”

In addition to the April 29 event, the coalition also held a rally outside of City Hall on May 5 at 5:30 p.m.—the same time the Worcester City Council was meeting to discuss the very cuts the coalition opposes.