Barnstable County Health Department Established 90 Years Ago
In 1926, the Massachusetts legislature, at the behest of the county commissioners and citizens of Cape Cod, passed enabling legislation to establish the Barnstable County Health Department.
In 2016, nine decades later, with additional and wide-ranging responsibilities, the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment (BCDHE) continues to deliver a variety of public health services across Cape Cod.
The department began operations on January 1, 1927, with a health officer, a secretary, a sanitary inspector and assistant. In the winter 1927 edition of Commonhealth, the quarterly bulletin of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, A. P. Goff, MD, USPHS, the first Barnstable County Health Department health officer, authored an article on the Barnstable County Health Department. He described its future objectives:
“… the immunization of young children against diphtheria, vaccination of all school children and others, and continued effective control by isolation and otherwise of communicable disease … the effective correction of defects found in school children … shellfish sanitation … regular inspections of food handling places, installation of proper dumping grounds and gradual introduction of sewer systems where necessary. Lastly we hope to test all cows on the Cape for tuberculosis: the majority have already been tested.”
Today, the BCDHE provides the residents and visitors of Barnstable County with a range of services covering disease prevention and control; health and safety education; hazardous materials reporting; environmental protection; emergency preparedness and more.
Cooperation and Innovation
The towns of Barnstable County have a long tradition of cooperation in public health and safety. And that cooperation has been accompanied by innovation. The creation of the Barnstable County Health Department was a notable event. A report from the United States Public Health Service on Co-operative Rural Health Work for 1925 – 26 stated: “The Barnstable County health department will be the first county health department established in New England. The precedent is of historic interest and is expected to prove of far-reaching practical importance.”
Reflecting on the report above, Barnstable County Administrator Jack T. Yunits said,” After 90 years, we can safely say that the prediction has been borne out. The department is of historic interest and continues to provide services of practical importance today.”
Over the history of the department, the following individuals have served as county health officers or department directors: A. P. Goff, MD, 1927 – 1946; Frederick L Moore, MD, 1947 – 1963; Mary Susich, RN, BS, MPH, 1964 -1971; Esther G. Howes, RN, MN, MS, 1972 – 1984; Stetson Hall, BS, RS, 1985 – 2002; George Heufelder, MS, RS, 2002 – 2016.
A Proven Regional Approach
Director George Heufelder recently stepped down from the post to devote his full energies to the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center, which has received substantial grant funding for advanced research. Heufelder has long been a proponent of seeking state and federal grants to bolster the department’s environmental work. “It has been our goal to identify, in collaboration with the boards of health in the towns, the kinds of issues that lend themselves to regional approaches.”
BCDHE Interim Director Sean O’Brien said, “It goes without saying that the world is a remarkably different place since 1926 when the department was created. What hasn’t changed is the need for a range of public health services delivered to the community on a regional basis.”