Four communities have received a grant through the Department of Public Health to strengthen local nursing and COVID contact tracing efforts.

The $250,000 grant, which will be administered over two years and managed through the city of Greenfield’s Health Department budget, helps to formalize a collaborative work structure developed between the communities during the pandemic.

“We’ve been working together since the height of the pandemic, but this way is much better because our nurses are communicating immediately instead of all of us having to reach out separately to each other,” said Deerfield Board of Health Chair Carolyn Shores Ness. “Now it will be formalized and will happen on a day-to-day basis. We will have paid staff and not just volunteers on boards. … It’s a long-term solution.”

The grant will support the hiring of new public health nursing staff to serve all four communities and assist with public outreach and communication efforts, including contract tracing and case investigation.

“Our municipalities share resources such as schools and employers,” said Greenfield Health Director Jennifer Hoffman, “and it makes sense for our towns to be unified.”

Shores Ness said the grant will enable contact tracing within a few hours and communication of that information to all of the towns.

“I’m very pleased the state is willing to support us and allow us to have public nurse staff to do that, especially with the shortened CDC quarantine guidelines,” she said.

The four Franklin County communities have been collaborating on solutions to a range of pandemic health issues. Major regional challenges include finding solutions for residents who have difficulty getting to vaccine and testing sites due to their remote location and lack of transportation, as well as limited internet and cable access.

“We collaborated with the Franklin Regional Transportation Authority to provide transportation to some residents and with the sheriff’s office to hold vaccine clinics in schools,” Hoffman said. “We also did home visits for testing and vaccination.”

Hoffman and Shores Ness said their communities are not yet seeing infections from the new omicron variant, but they have been seeing an increase in demand for testing and vaccinations, and are currently determining how to maximize the impact of state-provided at-home test kits.

“The most important thing is that the pandemic changes constantly,” said Shores Ness. “So it’s wonderful to have us all talking together about how to protect our communities and proactively about the next best step to take. Having the immediate data helps us make better decisions.

“Working together we have a better impact than if we are acting individually. … COVID does not know where town boundaries are.”

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