The Board of Health this week unanimously voted to make access to reproductive health services one of its departmental goals for the current year. The board approved a statement that affirmed its commitment “to protecting and supporting access to reproductive health services as a basic public health right.”
Heidi Porter, the town’s Director of Health and Human Services, said the statement will have its own page on the departmental website. “We can continue to add things when they come to our attention,” Porter said, such as vetted organizations that provide support services.
“From a health policy, it is so important,” said member Bea Brunkhorst. “Reproductive care isn’t just about abortion; it’s wanting to get pregnant, it’s contraception.” Member Ann Kiessling said infertility is another important category.
The declaration reads, “[A]ccess to reproductive health care services, including access to birth control, infertility care, pregnancy care services, and safe and legal abortion care, is an essential part of comprehensive health care for women.” It also notes that “access to abortion care in Massachusetts is protected under a 2020 Massachusetts state law.”
“A statement of this kind certainly fits in our mission statement. We need to underscore that that’s why we’re doing it,” said member Maureen Richichi. The mission statement says in part that the board promotes “healthy people, healthy families, and healthy environment through compassionate care, education, and disease prevention.”
The goal approved at Monday’s meeting “recommends that reproductive health information, including legal rights to a safe and legal abortion in Massachusetts; medical information; funding options; and contact information for locations of service be made readily available in print and digital form, in languages commonly spoken in Bedford, including English, Mandarin, and Spanish.”
Included was a list of nine healthcare and medical professional organizations that advocate the board’s position.
The board also will consider adding mental health as a goal. Members agreed that an abundance of options is available through the Department of Youth and Family Services. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for residents to identify the services that would be helpful to them,” Porter said. “We have a really great template,” with social workers covering all age cohorts.
Porter cited the contribution of Eliot Community Human Services, not only with a full- and part- time social worker attached to the office but also the regional jail diversion program. According to the town website, an Eliot clinician “works directly and collaboratively with police officers to address and support the mental health and substance abuse needs of people coming into contact with law enforcement.”
She noted that professionals in the department use several tools to flesh out mental health needs – the youth risk behavior survey, interviews with town employees, and discussions with residents. Brunkhorst said residents should be able to easily find options through the website.
“Given all that we have, which is a lot for a town of our size, what can the board do that would be most helpful in terms of promoting mental health?” Richichi asked. Porter recommended that the board “partner” with the risk behavior survey and other Youth and Family Services programs.
Member Anita Raj said board members should “look through the lenses” of the community nurse, social workers, the veterans’ agent, and school counselors. Kiessling stressed the importance of confidentiality. Julie Genova, the department’s community nurse, agreed: “I start every conversation with that.”
Richichi and Brunkhorst also agreed to review the upcoming special town meeting article that will determine the future of the proposed Minuteman Bikeway Extension to see if either side of the issue is consistent with the board’s mission. “A number of residents have reached out to me from both sides,” commented Chair Susan Schwartz.