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Merrimack Valley

August 25, 2013

State kills regional health grant

Haverhill, Methuen, Lawrence lose money for nurse, inspector

The state is pulling the plug on a grant designed to help Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill provide better health services to the public.

State health officials decided to end the regional grant shared by the three cities after the Methuen City Council eliminated funding for that city’s health director, who administered the grant.

A four-year, $325,000 grant created the Merrimack Valley Health District in 2012. The grant was designed to give a boost to financially strapped local health departments by paying for a full-time public health nurse and part-time environmental health inspector. Only five such grants were awarded statewide.

The decision to cease grant funding after this year means Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill will lose out on $214,000. The nurse will be laid off Friday and local officials must now work to convince the state to temporarily retain the inspector.

“It’s a significant blow,” said Methuen Community Development Director William Buckley. “I don’t know if the opportunity is completely lost. It will make any type of regionalization of our health departments that much more difficult.”

Former Methuen Health Director Brian LaGrasse had served as grant administrator. During a budget hearing in June, city councilors voted to cut his $73,149 annual salary down to $1, effectively eliminating the position.

The state Department of Public Health sent Methuen a “notice of termination” for the grant on Aug. 7. On Thursday, Buckley and William Pillsbury, Haverhill’s director of planning and economic development, met with state health officials at Methuen City Hall in an attempt to salvage the grant, which was originally slated to run until December 2015.

“We were basically making a plea for them to reverse their decision,” said Buckley. “It was clear to us ... it will be highly unlikely there will be money available in years three and four of the grant.”

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