LEWISTON – Hospital and city officials hope to get elected officials’ blessing for a group to tackle public health issues.

City officials from Lewiston and Auburn, local nonprofits and both St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Central Maine Medical Center are proposing that the city councils in both cities create a public health committee. The committee would help the groups combine efforts in dealing with public health issues – from lead poisoning to possible pandemic outbreaks.

“I think it’s a surprise to most people that Lewiston and Auburn, the No. 2 and No. 4 biggest cities in the state, do not have public health offices,” said deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau.

Hospitals handle some of those functions, such as setting up flu shot clinics. Nonprofit and other groups lead planning efforts for more difficult issues – such as planning for pandemic outbreaks or health education.

“But nobody brings it all together,” Nadeau said.

The issue came up in April 2006, after an Edward Little student was diagnosed with tuberculosis. That spurred a round of testing of 150 students and faculty before the population was given a clean bill of health by state health officials.

“It went pretty well, but it underscores that fact that there is no infrastructure in place to deal with these kinds of issues,” Nadeau said.

Hospital representatives and officials from Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, both cities and organizations like Common Ties and Healthy Androscoggin began meeting in April to draw out a plan for a health committee.

They’re recommending making Lewiston and Auburn’s city governments the source for public information on health issues.

“In Maine and in New England, people with questions contact city hall,” Nadeau said. “That’s what they’ve grown up doing. They don’t go to county agency or local hospitals. They bring their questions to their city hall, and if that’s what they’re going to do we need to be sure we’re ready with some answers.”

Organizers are recommending that Nadeau act as liaison between the committee and both cities. They’ll present their plans to Lewiston City Council at 7 tonight and to the Auburn council on Monday.

“Then, we hope to schedule some public meetings for people to get familiar with the idea,” Nadeau said. The final structure would be presented to the newly elected city councils early next year.


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