Creating a 21st-Century Local Public Health System

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.

The SAPHE 2.0 Coalition

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 transform the local public health system in Massachusetts.

In 2022, the Coalition successfully advocated for the allocation of $200M in federal ARPA funds over five years to:

  • Establish integrated, 21st century data systems,
  • Invest in workforce development to ensure that every community benefits from the expertise of trained professionals, and 
  • Eliminate the significant inequities in public health services and capacity between municipalities.

We are now working to ensure that these funds are used efficiently and effectively by passing the complementary policy solutions contained in the Statewide Accelerated Public Health for Every Community Act (SAPHE 2.0). This critical bill 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.

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 Rae Dick, 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.

Click here to view the SAPHE 2.0 Bill Fact Sheet.

Implementing Consensus Recommendations

The new SAPHE 2.0 Act is based on the consensus findings of the Special Commission on Local and Regional Health. It would also implement several key recommendations from the final report of the Joint Committee on COVID-19, Emergency Preparedness and Management. The bill 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.

SAPHE 2.0 also builds on the progress made through passage of 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 created a voluntary grant-based program as a first step towards improving the local public health system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inadequacies of our local public health system. 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 residents — regardless of race, income or zip code!

For more information, contact MPHA’s Deputy Director, Oami Amarasingham at oamarasingham@mapublichealth.org.

Fact Sheets:

Press Releases and News Clippings:

Additional Resources:

Videos:

6/9/2021 No More Band-Aids State House Rally


6/4/2021 A Tribute to Local Public Health Professionals and Volunteers

Click here to view more.

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