AMHERST, Mass. - Board of health members in Massachusetts are receiving training on the most current state laws and regulations, thanks to the efforts of University of Massachusetts Public Health and Health Sciences professor Gary S. Moore who is working with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB), a statewide professional organization.
Moore has been working with the MAHB for several years to revise the guidebook that contains critical information for boards of health, and has been conducting training and certification programs for individual board members. The training program is one of the first of its kind in the country and is being considered as a national model, Moore says. Funding for the training and certification comes from a Kellogg Foundation grant and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).
Moore says training is essential because boards of health are the most powerful municipal boards in Massachusetts. "The board of health is the main line of defense in protecting the public health at the local level," Moore says."The board can close down a restaurant, isolate people because of disease, or take action to protect the town water supply." Its primary purpose is to work within the community to prevent disease, but those responsibilities also extend to issues of smoking, domestic violence, and re-emerging diseases such as tuberculosis, Moore says.
Given their broad powers and the fact that many are made up of ordinary citizens, boards of health need constant training to make sure members are aware of the latest regulations, Moore says. That’s why the guidebook revision is so important, he says. Prior to its release last summer, the basic guidebook for board members hadn’t been updated in years, Moore says. "The old guidebook was 17 years old," he says. "Since then, virtually all of the air quality, water quality, and Title V (septic system requirements) have changed." Moore says plans are underway to link all health boards by e-mail and create a CD-ROM that contains relevant state laws and regulations as well as the basic guidebook.
Since initiating a pilot program three years ago, Moore and the MAHB estimate they have certified between one-third and one-half of the board of health members in Massachusetts. In recognition for his efforts, Moore is being given an award by the MAHB on Thurs., March 12 at the group’s annual Recognition Day at the Statehouse in Boston. That event will feature presentations by Moore and Marcia Benes, executive director of the MAHB; comments from Howard Koh, commissioner of the DPH, and David Struhs, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection; and key lawmakers.