Accelerating Improvements to Local Public Health: SAPHE 2.0

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the local public health system in Massachusetts is not adequately structured, staffed, or financed to meet large scale public health challenges. Despite the dedication of our state’s local health staff and volunteers, the Commonwealth’s decentralized approach to delivering public health services leads to extreme variability across municipalities — and this puts the entire state at risk. Now is the time to move rapidly to improve and invest in our local public health system, so that local public health departments can meet the challenges of today – and tomorrow.

In response to the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic by hundreds of municipal public health departments and boards of health in Massachusetts, MPHA and a broad coalition of partners have formed the SAPHE 2.0 Coalition. Together, we are calling on state leaders to take urgent action to improve the local public health system in Massachusetts. Currently, the coalition is supporting passage of the Statewide Accelerated Public Health for Every Community Act (SAPHE 2.0), which would:

  • Ensure minimum public health standards for every community,
  • Increase capacity and effectiveness by encouraging municipalities to share services,
  • Create a uniform data collection and reporting system, and
  • Establish a sustainable state funding mechanism to support local boards of health and health departments.

The coalition is still growing, and we need your support! If your organization or municipality would like to become a member, please click here. To add your voice as an individual supporter, please click here.

Lead cosponsors of the SAPHE 2.0 Act are State Senator Jo Comerford, State Representative Hannah Kane, and State Representative Denise Garlick. The SAPHE 2.0 Coalition is led by municipal officials and public health experts, including Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, New Bedford Health Director Damon Chaplin, Shrewsbury Town Manager Kevin Mizikar, Massachusetts Health Officers Association President Sigalle Reiss, Massachusetts Association of Public Health Nurses President Ruth Mori, East Longmeadow Health Director Aimee Petrosky, Wrentham Town Administrator Kevin Sweet, and Phoebe Walker, Director of Community Services for the Franklin Regional Council of  Governments.

Some communities, like the city of Cambridge, have well-funded public health departments that include COVID-19 contact tracing teams (pictured above). However, many communities make do with insufficient staff, and dozens of small towns have no public health staff at all.

Earlier this year, coalition members succeeded in passing the original SAPHE Act, which is now in statute as Chapter 72 of the Acts of 2020, An Act Relative to Strengthening the Local and Regional Public Health System. This legislation, which was drafted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, created a voluntary grant-based approach to improve the local public health system. The new SAPHE 2.0 Act is based on the consensus findings and recommendations of the Special Commission on Local and Regional Health, as well as the lessons learned from COVID-19. It directs the Department of Public Health to establish minimum standards for local public health departments and boards of health and sets out a clear timeline for communities to reach those standards. It also establishes state funding to support communities in reaching these benchmarks, while also providing incentives to encourage communities to share services. Finally, it creates a uniform data collection and reporting system to ensure that timely decisions can be made based on accurate and consistent data.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inadequacies of the local public health system in our Commonwealth. The status quo is not only unacceptable, it is dangerous. Now is the time to invest in creating a stronger, more equitable system that will provide essential public health protections to all Massachusetts residents, regardless of ZIP Code. To learn more, contact Kristina Kimani at kkimani@mapublichealth.org.

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