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Hirschhorn receives MHOA’s Crowley Award for dedication to community

Nov. 7, 2013
By Chris Maza


LONGMEADOW – A lot has changed in the realm of public health for the town during the past 30 years, but one constant has been Beverly Hirschhorn’s involvement in it.

Hirschhorn, who has served the town in regards to health issues for three decades, first as a member of the Board of Health and now as the town’s health director, was recently named a recipient of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association’s (MHOA) John D. Crowley Award for her dedication to the community.

According to the MHOA, the award was named in honor of Crowley, who served the city of Cambridge as executive health agent and a member of the health department for more than 50 years, and “is given annually to a regular member of the MHOA who has contributed to the growth and success of the organization through outstanding leadership and extraordinary service.”

Hirschhorn’s involvement in public health began in 1983 when she became part of the first Board of Health that operated independent of the Select Board and eventually became the town’s health director.

During her three decades of work, she said she as seen a tremendous amount of progress in the way the town handles public health issues.

“It’s been a fantastic experience over the years seeing the growth of this town, the different public health issues that have waxed and waned through the years,” she said. “More and more issues have come under the Board of Health’s authority as public health has expanded and knowledge of certain issues has been brought to the fore. It’s really been something to start from the ground up. There was no record keeping and no organized pattern for doing things and now to have a fully running office is terrific. It’s very humbling to look back now and see where we’ve come from.”

In 1983, residents passed an article supported by the League of Women Voters and other public health organizations to create a separate board to act as a government body dedicated to public health.

“Previously the Select Board served as the Board of Health,” she said. “People wanted a body that would have public health as its main concern and not business interest because there’s an inherent conflicts of interest there.”

Hirschhorn said that in addition to the conflict of interest, the town had little in the way of policy writing or enforcement because public health was a secondary function of the Select Board.

“We had really nothing. We had somebody who was an employee of Springfield come over and do some inspections at night, but we didn’t have any ongoing policy-making board or inspectional services here,” she said. “It was a really big deal that this started in our town and in fact makes us different from East Longmeadow and Wilbraham, who do not have separate boards of health.”

After several years as a policy maker on the board, Hirschhorn first starting wearing the policy enforcement hat in 1989 when the health inspector at the time fell ill and she began performing his duties on a limited basis.

In 1993, Hirschhorn officially became an employee of the town and resigned from the Board of Health.

Since taking over as director, Hirschhorn said she has seen a great deal of change in her job description, based on the needs of the town and greater education.

Emergency preparedness, once solely a function of the police and fire departments, recently became an issue her office addresses, she said.

“It was an area where there was very little public health involvement,” she said. “But this is an area that now takes up a significant amount of my time and energy and has required me to retool my training and experience.”

Moving the public health nurse from the Council on Aging to the Board of Health’s purview was something Hirschhorn said she was proud of, adding “it only made sense.”

She also said a reemergence of communicable diseases, such as H1N1, whooping cough and West Nile virus, have presented challenges.

“These communicable diseases were things that many of us thought were prehistoric history at this point,” she said. “We need to start paying more attention to them. The world is a smaller place and we need to make sure we’re keeping up.”

Care for elderly residents has become a constant concern during the past decade or so, Hirschhorn added.

“We’re living in a more mobile society and because of that there are issues related to housing, especially for seniors. A lot of times there isn’t family around to check on the elderly, which can lead to obvious health and sanitary issues,” she said. “It’s a newer area of concern that has come to the fore over the past five or 10 years.”

Hirschhorn said with all she has to keep track of, she is “blessed to have a strong and supportive Board of Health and two wonderful employees.”

“The one thing I don’t have that I’m still looking for is a 26-hour day,” she joked. “We don’t have a lot of resources, but we get a lot done with what have.”

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