$ 3.9M Grant Will Help Expand Access to Health Care in South Berkshire County | Local news

$ 3.9M Grant Will Help Expand Access to Health Care in South Berkshire County |  Local news

The Massachusetts Public Health Excellence Grant aims to improve effectiveness and efficiency of local and regional public health by expanding opportunities to share public health services, according to Tri-Town officials. The grant takes effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. However, the state will begin funding the Southern Berkshire Comprehensive Public Health Nursing Program for May and June to get it up and running immediately, according to Tri-Town Executive Director James Wilusz.

Wilusz says the grant will pay to hire two nurses at competitive salaries and full benefits and a part-time shared services coordinator. It will also pay other expenses associated with the program. “If we need to do a flu clinic, we’ll do it. If we need a wellness check, we’ll do it. If we need to do contact tracing, we’ll do it,” he said.

Wilusz agrees that smaller communities can’t meet their public health needs without state backing. Public health nurses will help “close the gap of health inequities” in rural areas. The pandemic highlighted the challenges of delivering public heath services to rural communities, according to collaborative officials. They say the grant is the start of a long-range effort to keep South Berkshire healthy.

“Our goal is to ensure that our towns have ready access to all types of health programs from health clinics for older citizens to education in the schools,” Lenox Board of Health member Dianne Romeo wrote in an email to The Eagle.  “It is an opportunity one could only dream of before this grant became available.” In addition to the Tri-Town communities, the new collaborative includes Alford, Great Barrington, Mt. Washington, Monterey, New Marlborough, Otis, Sheffield.

Wilusz says the nursing program doesn’t replace any current contract towns have with a visiting nurse association. He noted the VNAs can act as a back up to the collaborative. “Clinical nursing has been the weak spot for most of us, and the new grant will enable all the towns to garner the clinical nursing piece that they need,” said Dr. Charles Kenny of the Stockbridge Board of Health. “But the sky’s the limit. What we do together in the future will be based on this beginning.”

Source VNA coverage in South Berkshire took a hit a year ago, when Amedisys closed its Lee office, once the home of the independently run Porchlight VNA. Amedisys’ only Berkshire presence is an office in Pittsfield. 

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