Town Manager Philip Lemnios’ “biggest takeaway” following Public Health Director Joan Taverna’s recent update to the Select Board was that the Health Department’s work “is not mechanical.
“The staff cares very deeply for the residents of Hull,” he said. “They are as important as our first responders. We’re in great hands.”
The Board of Health is responsible for assessing, maintaining, and protecting the health of Hull residents, including enforcing new state regulations and policies relating to public health.
The department is responsible for inspecting 59 permitted food-service businesses – including restaurants, retail, catering, and mobile food providers – along with more than 1,100 rental units, new or rehabilitated homes, two bed and breakfasts, and two hotels/motels, in addition to swimming pools, recreational camps, the three schools, trash hauling companies, and carnivals that come to town.
The department also oversees beach water testing and the medical item (“sharps”) disposal program and is involved in emergency management to ensure the town’s shelter is up and running when needed, along with other responsibilities.
The board also handles “hundreds of complaints” related to trash, seaweed, dumpsters, neighborhood disputes, rodents, and ice cream trucks, according to Taverna.
Public nursing services provided include vaccine management (ordering vaccines and supplies and scheduling and operating flu clinics). More than 1,000 flu vaccinations are administered annually, with a clinic scheduled for the Endless Summer celebration in September.
These services also include home visits, blood pressure clinics, investigation of communicable diseases and food-borne illness, employee wellness programs, community walks in collaboration with the Department of Conservation & Recreation, and follow-up calls or visits related to police and fire referrals for issues encountered when making calls to residents’ homes in the line of duty.
The department has benefitted from a number of grants: Mayflower Municipal Wellness Mini-Grants; a Health Alliance Immunization Grant, and a shared $260,000 Public Health Excellence Grant with Hingham and Cohasset that includes $60,000 for COVID19 efforts and $200,000 to pay for the services of a grant manager, epidemiologist “to help with disease investigation,” public health education, and the ServSafe program for restaurants.
Taverna also provided a COVID19 update. As of March 30, there were 1,331 positive cases in Hull since the beginning of the pandemic, with 13 or 14 in the last two weeks, representing a slight uptick.
The Board of Health received “thousands of phone calls from residents who were scared during COVID,” she reported. “They were asking where they could get tested, and some had no food because they were in quarantine.”
To help meet the need, the Village Market delivered food and Nantasket Pharmacy delivered prescriptions to residents who found themselves in challenging situations.
The Health Department held 19 vaccination clinics, made 75 home visits, reached out to residents to check that they were safe, and also ensured that all town departments had the necessary personal protective equipment. In addition, more than 600 COVID19 home test kits were distributed at a drive-through site.
All contact tracing for positive cases was performed by the Health Department, “because our residents felt more comfortable having it done by someone they know,” Taverna explained. “We also participated in weekly COVID working group calls to update all town departments on state guidelines.”
Taverna also reported that among the town’s population of 9,463 people ages five through 75+, 8,704 individuals have had at least one dose, 7,703 are fully vaccinated, 1,001 are partially vaccinated, and 4,821 individuals have received booster doses.
Looking ahead, the Health Department plans to monitor current events related to the pandemic, offer additional wellness programs, resume CPR trainings for first responders, residents, town employees, and others, and to update the Health Department website.
Select Board member Domenico Sestito asked if what he has been hearing – that the overdose numbers in Hull are down – is correct. While the numbers are lower, Town Manager Philip Lemnios said the town “still has a significant problem, along with the rest of the country.”
On another subject, Select Board Chair Jennifer Constable asked for more information about how – beyond inspections of legal units – illegal rental units are being addressed. Neighbors sometimes alert the Board of Health, Taverna said, and the situation is checked out.
“Some deny that they have an illegal unit, while others say they aren’t familiar with the process and we help them through it,” she said.
Lemnios said that the appropriate town officials address any neighborhood concerns related to this issue – including talking with neighbors – but that “five percent of those cases take the most time to resolve. There is usually a cascading series of legal, public health, and fire [hazard] considerations, and proving what is being alleged and gaining access to the property is challenging. A legal process is in place, and it can take up to several years to resolve a case.”
Constable expressed appreciation for the department’s 24/7 efforts during the pandemic “for two years straight.”
Taverna was quick to share the praise.
“It’s totally a team effort,” she said.
The Select Board has been hearing presentations on the operations of various town departments during the past few weeks. Department heads describe their day- to- day activities and preview the upcoming year. View this and other presentations on the town’s website at https://www.town.hull.ma.us/home/pages/department-presentations-board-selectmen.