NORTHAMPTON – During a meeting on Oct. 20, the Northampton Board of Health provided updates regarding COVID-19 numbers and vaccination efforts and introduced some new faces to the board and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Board of Health Chair Joanne Levin officially introduced Janet Grant as a new member of the board for the next three years until her term expires in June 2025.
Grant has lived in Northampton for close to 12 years and has lived in Western Massachusetts her entire life. She told the board that she has worked in the field of public health for her entire career, holding an undergraduate degree in Sociology and a Master’s of Science in Public Health.
She spent several years working in what was once known as the Western Mass. Prevention Center which is now called the Western Massachusetts Center for Healthy Communities.
For the last seven years of her career, Grant worked at Holyoke Community College helping to develop their academic certificate for community health workers. She recently retired but wanted to find some way to continue working in the field, which is what led her to the Board of Health.
“I really feel it is an honor and a privilege to join the Board of Health,” said Grant. “I’m very passionate about what community health workers can bring to the field and to the solutions with all of the public health issues we’re dealing with all the time.”
The Board of Health also officially introduced other staff on the newly-consolidated Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which was approved at the mayor’s request back in the spring.
Under this structure, the Department of Community Care officially became part of the Health and Human Services Department, which is commissioned by Health Director Merridith O’Leary.
On Oct. 20, the board officially introduced Sean Donovan, the implementation director of the Department of Community Care, which aims to respond to calls related to mental health, substance use, social service-related requests and other crisis situations of Northampton residents and visitors as an alternative to traditional police response.
According to Donovan, the department is currently developing their own response team for the city. “We are well into working with some of our consultant partners,” said Donovan. “Our ultimate goal is to have a dispatch first responder team that is not fire, police, or rescue, but can really take on some of the calls that might be more fit to a team that does harm reduction responses.”
Donovan is also in the midst of working with Community Action Pioneer Valley in developing the city’s Community Resilience Hub.
“Our goal is not just to check a box off in saying that the amount of police calls has changed,” added O’Leary. “Our goal is to change outcomes. We want to make sure there’s resources in place for people to get the help that they need.”
Elliot Ezcurra, who was introduced as the city’s newest public health nurse for the DHHS, said that hospitalization rates relating to COVID-19 are still slightly increasing over the past couple weeks, which consequently has put Hampshire County in the “medium risk” level for hospitalization.
Much like it has been for the past few weeks, the county transmission rate has maintained its high rating for the county, according to Ezcurra.
“We’re not yet seeing a peak that is definitive…I think we’re seeing a slow swell,” said Ezcurra, regarding cases. “It’s been going up and down a lot over the past few weeks.”
According to Ezcurra, the DHHS has vaccinated 500 people for the flu and over 1,000 people for the bivalent booster shot.
O’Leary said the city will not conduct regularly scheduled clinics like they were at the Northampton Elks Lodge. “What we’re really going to do is identify the populations that are under vaccinated, and we’re really going to hone in on that and target those populations,” said O’Leary. “[The vaccine] is widely available now.”