South Portland firefighter and health official Josh Pobrislo speaks about the importance of his position at a June 25 City Council workshop. Contributed

SOUTH PORTLAND — City Manager Scott Morelli will draft a proposal for a committee to oversee improved coordination and possible centralization of the city’s public health services.

Councilors in a June 25 workshop discussed creation of a public health office that would bring several existing services under one umbrella, and possibly hiring staff to address needs not being met in the community.

City Councilor April Caricchio on March 5 originally suggested creating a position that would be responsible for follow-up and resource referral for vulnerable residents, including seniors and those with mental health conditions or substance use disorders. 

If any funds are needed, money would likely be taken out of the fiscal year 2021 budget. 

“We’re going to have a continually growing population of people in poverty, a growing homeless population, an opioid crisis, and immigrants that will continue to come,” Caricchio said. “We have to be prepared or we’re going to be caught off guard.” 

Deputy Police Chief Amy Berry said while the Police Department does have a variety of resources to respond to calls, there is a need to coordinate all efforts. 

“We’re all kind of doing bits and pieces of good work in different ways,” Berry said. “We are doing an incredible job with the limited resources that are available.” 

Firefighter Josh Pobrislo is also the city’s public health officer, and is responsible for reporting outbreaks of infectious disease to the Maine Centers for Disease Control. He also helps residents who have issues with mold, bed bugs and vermin. 

Pobrislo also works as a mediator and liaison with Social Services Director Kathleen Babeu and the Department of Health and Human Services to get people the help they need if their behaviors pose a risk to the public.  

“Health can be so expansive because health means food and security as well,” said Babeu, who offers resources to individuals in domestic abuse situations. “We all know each other and will call each other to try and figure out a solution. More coordination is always better.” 

Behavioral Health liaison Dana Baldwin works in the Police Department conducting outreach to people with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. She helps people map out a treatment plan and find housing or a job, if necessary. 

Derek Stephens, who wasn’t present at the meeting, works for the city as a public enforcement director, dealing with commercial establishments to ensure they follow safety protocol. 

Many residents said they weren’t aware that the public health positions even existed in the city and advocated for the City Council to assist them in whatever way possible. 

“I think there is a tremendous lack of coordination and not enough time for anyone to coordinate,” resident George Corey said. “There are a lot of issues of impact in this area, but there currently isn’t a health consult where these people can get together regularly.” 

Resident Linda Hingham said health officials will know best what they need and said they should convene and reach out to the council about what needs aren’t being met within the department.  

“I’m very impressed, I had no idea we had so many people,” Hingham said. “The city health officials know their needs better than any of you (council members) at this point.”

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