LWV OBSERVER CORPS: Board of Health, Feb. 7

Marblehead League of Women Voters Observer Corps
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Observer Corps Reports are provided by volunteers from the Marblehead League of Women Voters. To learn more about the League and its activities, see my.lwv.org/massachusetts/marblehead.

BODY: Board of Health

DATE: Feb. 7

MEMBERS IN ATTENDANCE: Health Director Andrew Petty, Todd Belfbecker (chairperson), secretary Andrea Flaxer, Joanne Greer Miller,  Helaine Hazlett

LWVM OBSERVER: Thomas Krueger

Tobacco control update

Joyce Redford, director, North Shore/Cape Ann Tobacco Prevention Program, came to give an update and some recommendations to the Board of Health. She noted that since 2016 numerous changes have happened at the state level.

But before discussing tobacco issues, she wanted to alert the board to two psychoactive substances that are currently being sold over the counter at convenience and adult-only stores. The first is called Delta 8, which is a synthetically processed derivative of hemp, a cannabinol. This compound can give a “high” and can also be addictive. It is ingested (gummies), inhaled, vaped, etc.

The other psychoactive substance is called Kratom, which is believed to act on opioid receptors. This is an extract from a species of evergreen trees. It can be a stimulant in low doses but at high doses gives euphoria and reduces pain. There can be significant side effects from this drug, including seizures, high blood pressure and even death. 

Redford said there have been no restrictions on their sale in Massachusetts so far, but it is illegal.  The police have the authority to confiscate these drugs. There is the option for local boards of health to ban these substances and attach fines to their sale. 

(Redford noted parenthetically how actions at the local level lead to regional action, and finally state action. This was the route workplace smoking bans occurred. A critical mass of local actions was needed.)

Members of the BOH were all deeply concerned about these drugs. A discussion ensued about potentially banning these in Marblehead, and a regulation could be crafted and reviewed by town counsel. The town of Beverly is currently considering the same. Lynn already has a broad sweeping regulation that prohibits a wide variety of drugs.

Following this discussion, Redford read a list of possible tobacco control regulations for the board to consider. Some of the items on the list are already state regulations; others could be done at the local level.

Some of these items included no permit renewals if outstanding fines, if tobacco sold to minors, having permit caps per towns, etc. Others were more specific: minimum pricing for cigarettes (not less than $2.50 for a single; two or more, not less than $5); banning blunt wrap tobacco; suspension periods for sales to minors (three days for first, seven days for second, 30 days for third). The board discussed these recommendations and will draft regulations to be reviewed by town counsel. These will hopefully be ready by the next scheduled BOH meeting March 14.

In conclusion, Redford said that the smoking rate in Marblehead is low, but vaping has increased. 

FY24 budget

Petty said that the Health Department was currently putting together the FY24 budget for the Health Department and waste management. He is actually working on three iterations of this budget: one if it is level funded; a second if there would be cuts needed; thirdly, a budget if an override passed.

The steps will be to meet with the liaison for the Finance Committee, then the town administrator, etc.

He then gave some specifics about the revolving accounts — vaccines and waste disposal. There are a number of cost drivers that increase each year — waste disposal, recycling, compost. He stated there was a lot of work needed ahead. 

Mental Health Task Force update

Miller gave an update on the Mental Health Task Force. The last meeting was on Jan. 30, and two new members were added, Susan Stelk and Mark Lomand, bringing additional energy and experience to the group. Stelk is a social worker and has been very active in school education and the Marblehead Female Humane Society. Lomand is a professor at Salem State University, a health professional, and has already participated in MHTF speaker series.

Previously, Dan Bauer, principal of the high school, was part of the task force, but he will be leaving. Ali Carey, a special ed teacher, will fill his spot for the schools.

(There was brief discussion about the procedure for adding new members to the MHTF since it is a subcommittee of the Board of Health.)

Gina Rabbitt, a mental health clinician who works with the Marblehead Police Department, and whose role is de-escalate mental health situations, attends the meetings also but is not a member.

Miller has sat with each of the task force members individually for feedback and ideas, etc. Ideas include: meeting in person every other meeting; having a column in the newspaper regarding mental health and reducing the stigma surrounding it, etc.

Future programming might include programs for opioid prevention; hope and resilience; scams for the elderly who are often victims; postpartum depression; NAMI for suicide prevention, etc.

Miller spoke to having Marblehead move to where we care for each other and build support structures.

In regards to applying for ARPA funds, the requests are as follows: $10,000 for high school programs, $2,000 for the Council on Aging, $2,000 for “MHD CARES” branding (banners, tents, flyers, etc.), and $3,000 for website maintenance and design. Much of this funding would cover more than just this year. Miller will write this up for consideration at the next meeting. 

Service animals discussion

Petty read some of the specifics of the definitions, laws, rights and responsibilities of service animals and emotional support animals in places of accommodation, housing, transport, etc. These are available on mass.gov, specifically the Massachusetts Office of Disability.

For example, if a person with a disability is accompanied by a service animal, they cannot be asked for documentation of the disability. Only when a disability is not obvious can the following two questions be asked: 1) Is the animal a service animal required because of the disability? 2) What task or service is the animal able to provide? Service animals can go into restaurants, groceries stores, etc.

Director’s report

  • Transfer Station update: Still waiting for the architect who is talking to subcontractors, etc. When a schedule is available, the Transfer Station committee will talk with the group. Bidding could perhaps start by spring.
  • Investigating motorizing fencing at the Transfer Station so it would be automatic, allowing for less idling of trucks.
  • Surveying needed to establish Transfer Station property boundaries.
  • Surveillance cameras at the Transfer Station: Most have been installed.
  • Household Hazardous Waste program: No curbside pickup this March as the firm ACV will no longer be doing this. There are no other firms to go to. Could go back to the previous method at the transfer station, but there would be a $7,000-10,000 set-up cost. 
  • COVID: still in the community. Test kits are available at the Health Department and have been offered to establishments. There is no limit to the number you can take.

Public comment period

  • One resident who lives on Broughton Road brought in two completely filled trash bags to emphasize her point that this is the amount of trash that ends up on their street every day. It is destroying the quality of life for her and her neighbors. She is reaching out to every department for help. She would like people to come over and see.
  • Another resident in a follow up to the regulation about the size of the trucks that can dump at the transfer station (see Board of Health, Jan. 10), stated how he contacted a number of individuals at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection who did not interpret the law in the same way.

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