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MA Could Use Rescue Plan Funds for Public Health System Updates

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Massachusetts has launched efforts to reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities in vaccination rates, but while some communities' rates are through the roof, others still lag behind.  (Seventyfour/Adobe Stock)
Massachusetts has launched efforts to reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities in vaccination rates, but while some communities' rates are through the roof, others still lag behind. (Seventyfour/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
June 11, 2021

BROCKTON, Mass. -- Some public-health experts want Massachusetts to use more than $250 million from the American Rescue Plan for major updates to the public-health system.

The Commonwealth has 351 separate, local health departments.

Craig Andrade, associate dean of practice at the Boston University School of Public Health and member of the Brockton Board of Health, pointed out each department's budget depends on whatever local resources are available. He said it has led to decades of large gaps between affluent and lower-income communities.

"We can make the quality of life better for everybody if we make sure that we have a standard of care and a standard of health throughout the Commonwealth, in a way that makes it so it doesn't matter what your ZIP Code is, it doesn't matter what your race or ethnicity or immigration status is," Andrade urged.

He contended the COVID-19 pandemic has brought disparities to the forefront. The proposal noted local public-health departments deal with issues ranging from contagious diseases, bacterial contamination and lead exposure, to unsafe housing conditions and contaminated food and water.

Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said local public health staffs have worked tirelessly on the front lines of the pandemic, and the last year has shown how under prepared the system was for such a crisis.

She added the state had to spend millions of dollars on contracts with private companies to build temporary infrastructure, because of the lack of public-health funding in recent decades.

"We need to encourage municipalities to share services, so that things work both more efficiently and with greater quality and equity," Pavlos asserted.

She suggested, of the federal funds coming to the Commonwealth, $95 million could go toward infrastructure to address health disparities, $37 million into technical assistance and training for the local workforces, and $118 million for data systems. Pavlos emphasized it would go a long way to prepare for future public-health needs.

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