This is the third in a 6-part series on the Town’s departments and key employees.
When someone mentions the Board of Health, what comes to mind? Do you think about cockroaches ... restaurant inspections ... communicable diseases ... providing flu vaccines to residents ... salmonella outbreaks ... or something else? If you selected any of these topics you would be correct, but you’d only have scratched the surface.
According to Sigalle Reiss, Superintendent/Director of Norwood’s Health Department, the primary responsibility of the department is “to protect the public health of Norwood through regulatory enforcement and disease prevention services.” That’s no small task!
Reiss, a graduate of Boston University’s School of Public Health, has been Superintendent of the department for 12 years this month. She sings high praise for each member of her staff and for the elected board to which she reports.
The board oversees and authorizes the activities of the department. Three elected officials with three-year terms – Joan M. Jacobs, Chairman, Kathleen F. Bishop, RN, and Carolyn Riccardi –comprise the current board. The board has autonomous authority to make decisions, allowing them to quickly handle any emergency situations that may arise.
You may already know that the Health Department issues permits and licenses for food service providers, including school cafeterias, caterers, bakeries, nursing homes, function halls, retail markets and the like. But you might be surprised to learn that they also inspect and license funeral directors, hotels and motels, liquor stores, public and semi-public pools, tanning salons, gyms, spas and other facilities used by the public. They also issue burial permits. And, they inspect and license recreational camps for children, which involves background checks for staff, ensuring that camper and staff immunizations are up-to-date, overseeing the general safety of the camp environment, and providing information to camp directors about sun safety, heat-related illnesses, tick and mosquito borne diseases, meningitis and other communicable diseases.
“Most of our inspections are done by our Sanitarian, Angelo De Luca,” Reiss said. “He is quite adept at his job and amazing to watch.”
Last year alone, De Luca performed 432 food inspections focusing on safety and sanitation to prevent disease and illness.
Assistant Director Stacey Lane is a registered nurse. Among other responsibilities, she handles housing inspections to ensure that living conditions are safe and sanitary. Requests for inspection can be made by renter or owner-occupied buildings, but Reiss says they are most often requested by tenants.
Most of us don’t want to think about communicable diseases. Our Health Department stays on top of that for us, conducting investigations to identify sources of infection within the community and taking appropriate control measures. Last year, they handled 280 cases, more than half of which involved Influenza, Hepatitis C and suspected cases of Lyme Disease.
Health counseling, blood pressure clinics, flu vaccines, emergency preparedness plans, senior issues, student eye and dental clinics, sponsoring wellness programs and food safety workshops, enforcing local, state and federal codes, and keeping abreast of new health initiatives and ways to communicate them to us... these are some of the everyday things that this department does.
Reiss says the Health Department is always changing in line with new programs to help prevent disease by addressing risk and protective factors. One of these changes is to the Norwood Smiles program that the Health Department offers in partnership with the Norwood schools. This program builds on the former oral health program provided by the Town. It has two phases. First, students in grades 1-6 receive basic oral health screening exams in the schools. The results of the screening exams are sent home and families can take advantage of the opportunity to receive their child’s basic dental care through the Norwood Smiles program. (Basic dental care includes cleanings, sealants, x-rays and fluoride treatments.)
The services are provided by contracted pediatric dentist, Mark Stone, DMD, MScD, in his Norwood office. If parents do not have dental insurance, the Norwood Smiles program will cover the cost of basic dental care as well as any co-pays or deductibles. If parents do have insurance, the insurance company will be billed for the service by Dr. Stone’s office.
Reiss says they are currently evaluating the success of the program.
“We already know this change has produced a cost savings to the Town and provided better services for the children,” Reiss said. “However, transportation is currently a barrier and we’re working on a solution.”
In other efforts to help our citizenry, the Health Department applied for and received a two-year mental health grant, which it is using to contract with the INTERFACE Referral Service. This mental health resource and referral Helpline exists to help children, adults and families become connected with mental health and wellness resources. Look for information to come out this fall about the new program for residents.
One of the areas Reiss is most enthusiastic about is the department’s involvement in Impact Norwood, a community coalition she helped create with Police Chief William Brooks, which is working to prevent substance use in Norwood.
“When Chief Brooks called and asked me to help create the coalition, my plate was full, but, I couldn’t say no,” Reiss said. “Our police chief is very persuasive.”
The coalition has a strong foundation. Created in 2014, more than 75 people committed to it – people from all of the Town departments, parents, youth, businesses, the Chamber of Commerce and Norwood Hospital.
The Norfolk County District Attorney’s office and Norwood Hospital provided seed money to get the coalition started and paved the way to apply for the Drug Free Communities grant from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Impact Norwood will receive $125,000 per year for 10 years. Over the next few years, the coalition will focus on preventing and reducing underage alcohol and youth marijuana use.
“We need to understand substance use as a disease,” Reiss said. “It is not an opioid crisis, it’s an addiction crisis! Our focus will be on the youth of Norwood. We will work toward ensuring that future generations living in our community don’t have to go up against the epidemic plaguing our country today.”
Asked how she measures the success of Norwood’s public health programs, Reiss said, “Our mission is to promote health and prevent disease. Prevention is always hard to see. We are out there every day, but it’s hard to show what it is you’ve prevented.”
For more information on how you can be part of the Impact Norwood Prevention Coalition, go to www.impactnorwood.org.