The Board of Health at its meeting Monday evening unanimously voted to support the efforts of Be SMART, a public safety initiative to promote safe firearm storage and prevent accidental injuries and deaths.
A team of Be SMART members spoke before the board about the importance of gun safety measures and asked for support. The members also are involved in the recently formed Hopkinton chapter of Moms Demand Action, a nationwide grassroots effort to promote public safety that will aid in preventing gun violence.
Resident Carly Grant explained that Kerri Connors started a local chapter of Moms Demand Action in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were fatally shot and 17 others were injured.
“Moms Demand Action is not anti-gun,” she stressed. “We’re pro-safety. Our membership includes both gun owners and non-gun owners.”
Grant noted that firearms safety is a public health issue and cited statistics about children accessing guns that are not properly stored. Every year, she said, 350 children in America under the age of 18 gain access to a firearm and accidentally shoot themselves or someone else. Around 15 percent of Massachusetts households have guns, according to Be SMART data, and 4.6 million children nationwide live in a household where there is access to at least one unlocked and loaded gun.
“Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children,” she continued. “And that comes above motor vehicle accidents, cancer and other things.”
“That’s a surprising statistic,” said BOH member Richard Jacobs.
Grant added that the rate of suicide by teens using guns “is at a record high” because of the combination of access to firearms and mental health challenges resulting from the pandemic, adding that half of the teens who commit suicide use a gun.
“Sadly, as you probably know, we’ve had incidents right here in Hopkinton,” she said.
While Massachusetts has one of the most stringent gun policies in the nation, licenses are only renewed about every six years, according to Grant. This is why she said educating the public about safe gun storage is critical.
Connors added that she hopes to partner with the School Committee and the district schools in spreading awareness as a public safety issue.
Be SMART includes an acronym for the five pillars of the group’s strategy: securing all guns in households and vehicles; modeling responsible behavior around guns; asking about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes; recognizing the role of guns in suicide; and telling peers to be smart about gun safety.
Locally, Be SMART has partnered with the police to promote its message on social media. It had a table at last month’s health fair to provide information, where the police provided free gun locks. Members hope to foster partnerships with other groups in town.
“Certainly this is important,” said BOH Chair Lisa Whittemore. “It’s part of the health of our community.”
She noted that there was a school shooting in St. Louis on Monday, which makes the issue particularly relevant.
Health Director Shaun McAuliffe noted that, at the school his children attend, a notice was sent via email by the school regarding a slumber party where parents questioned if guns were present in the home. This, he said, showed an example of gun safety being on parents’ radar.
Connors said the group also plans to speak with legislators about firearms policy when the new legislative session begins in January. The group also plans to meet with gun clubs.
Added Whittemore: “The takeaway is that, in any way we can help you, we are happy to help you.”
Board approves moving forward with strategic plan development
McAuliffe said he recently met with representatives from the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management Publications based at the University of Massachusetts Boston at a conference. One of the group’s areas of expertise, he explained, is helping health and finance departments develop strategic plans. The cost would be around $35,000.
McAuliffe said that in addition to helping the BOH develop a strategic plan, the Collins Center also could assist in performing a community health assessment. He noted that one of the Collins Center representatives, Morgan Clark, formerly was the health director of Provincetown for many years and would understand the community’s needs.
McAuliffe said he hoped to model the strategic plan after ones he researched from Framingham and Plymouth.
The board unanimously approved moving forward with developing the strategic plan with the Collins Center, pending the allocation of funding.
Vaccination clinics successful
Public Health Nurse Simone Carter noted that the town recently hosted four successful vaccination clinics. It simultaneously provided the influenza and bivalent Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. So far, Carter said the department has provided three times as many flu vaccines during October as it did last year in October and November combined.
The daily reported case rate for COVID-19 in Hopkinton stands at 2.2, although McAuliffe added that the number of cases “is well under-reported.”
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is beginning to become more prevalent, Carter said, but it has not reached the stage of a public health impact. There has also been an uptick in Lyme disease. And many cases, McAuliffe added, are under-reported.
“I would argue that the DPH needs to do a better job at reviewing with the medical societies what is reported,” McAuliffe said.
There is a greater need for the department to provide shingles shots for those for whom a shot is cost prohibitive, McAuliffe said. To raise money, Carter volunteered to run in the Boston Marathon as a fundraiser, with donations going toward a shingles vaccination fund.
“That wouldn’t solve all the problems,” Carter noted. “But it would bring some awareness to the issue.”