The Board of Health at its meeting Monday evening discussed the financial implications of the state’s decision not to supply free COVID-19 vaccines to communities.
Health Department Director Shaun McAuliffe explained that the department spent more than $8,000 on vaccines and test kits. Each shot costs an average of $150.
“One of the biggest issues for me as a director is that we have a set of goals and objectives that the state has asked us to meet,” he explained. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, the state encourages health departments to provide shingles, pneumococcal and RSV vaccines.
The state also has been slow to reimburse the Health Department for vaccines it purchased in previous years. Data requests for processed claims have been challenging to receive because the claims company subcontracted the work, McAuliffe said.
He added that for fiscal year 2025, his and all town departments have been asked not to increase their budgets by more than 2.5%. With the vaccines and other department needs, McAuliffe has asked for a 4.3% increase.
He balanced this request by noting the revenue the Health Department generates and the services it provides to the town. In FY 22, the department brought in $135,500 with grants, gifts and revenue. In FY 23, that figure jumped to $267,281, while FY 24 is projected to net $167,000.
“We’re doing well as a department to cover our costs,” said McAuliffe.
He anticipates the final number being “just under a half-million dollars.” The final figure will need to be approved by the board.
Public Health Nurse Simone Carter said that the department is considering contracting with VaxCare to provide vaccines and equipment. The company has been operating in several states with positive reviews and is new to operating in Massachusetts.
In addition to the vaccines, the company provides computer equipment and software that automatically keeps track of vaccines and processes insurance claims.
Said Carter: “Because they are providing the vaccine, they want to get their return on their investment.”
There is an annual service agreement fee as well as a smaller monthly maintenance fee. Carter said that if the department decides to go forward, it would be a “beta test case for the state.”
Since September, Carter said she has administered 586 vaccines, including 116 COVID-19 booster shots.
More research will be done before the board’s next meeting on Dec. 18.
Strategic Plan advisory group meeting held
McAuliffe announced that the advisory group that will be working on the department’s strategic plan recently met. In addition to Health Department representatives and the two project consultants, the group included members from a broad range of areas. Members of the South Asian Circle of Hopkinton, Youth & Family Services, the Fire Department and the Senior Center contributed to the discussion.
“We had a good discussion about what the point of the strategic plan was,” McAuliffe said. “We went into breakout sessions to discuss what we thought were pressing issues. There were groups that at first didn’t understand why they were included. But when they walked away, they were delighted.”
Vice chair Nasiba Mannan said her breakout group discussed the challenges faced by the South Asian population at Legacy Farms in communicating with emergency medical technicians. There were cultural and language barriers as well as a misunderstanding by some as to when to call for help.
One takeaway McAuliffe had was that many people don’t understand the depth of services the Health Department provides.
MassDEP to approve separate PFAS standards for public, private wells
McAuliffe noted that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is expected to approve a statewide standard of 4 parts per trillion for PFAS levels in public wells. For private wells, the standard will be less strict at 20 parts per trillion.
“How do you enforce and educate people about two different standards?” he asked.
McAuliffe said MassDEP told him that private well owners will not be penalized if their level exceeds 20 PPT, but the MassDEP website indicates otherwise. He noted that high PFAS levels in private wells could negatively affect property values for those homes.
Added McAuliffe: “Our concentrations are relatively low compared to communities that are around airports and large manufacturers.”
Concerns about potentially illegal food vendors being addressed
McAuliffe noted that a food vendor was reported to be delivering food to the CVS back entrance. He is hoping to encounter the vendor to find out where the food is being prepared to ensure that it is meeting regulations.
The department received two new complaints about food being prepared illegally in home kitchens for distribution that McAuliffe is investigating.
MassDEP finds Legacy Farms treatment plant to be in violation
MassDEP recently cited the Legacy Farms treatment plant for a violation because of a high level of nitrogen found downgradient from the plant. The plant’s discharge “exceeded MassDEP’s regulatory threshold,” according to McAuliffe.
“It’s probably going to require some plant modifications,” McAuliffe said, noting that the plant has a week to get a corrective action plan to MassDEP.