BIHS wants to meet with Dept. of HealthDefines Lyme as “serious problem”
In what the members of the Deer Task Force (DTF) described as a positive step forward, the Block Island Health Services Board has written a draft letter to the state Department of Health (DOH) declaring a “serious public health problem” related to tick-borne diseases on the island.
The letter, which was signed by BIHS Board President Bob Fallon, BIHS Secretary Sue Hagedorn and Dr. Janice Miller, still needs to be approved for a final draft. But members of the DTF expressed at their meeting on Monday, Sept. 9, that the letter was an important piece to implement a plan to reduce the deer population. The letter directly asks the DOH to become involved and casts the excessive deer population as a health problem rather than a social nuisance.
“Block Island has a serious public health problem and needs assistance with decreasing the number of individuals diagnosed with tick-borne infections…,” the letter states. The letter also asks to meet with representatives from the DOH “as soon as possible.” The letter is addressed to Dr. Michael Fine, director of the DOH.
The DOH has, so far, been an elusive piece in the deer reduction puzzle. While members of the Deer Task Force have been engaged in discussions with the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) — because that agency has direct jurisdiction over the deer herd — it has been the DEM that reports information back to the Health Department about what is happening on Block Island.
It was the first week in September that the DTF met with the Health Services Board to request the letter, which emphasizes several key points related to the deer population and tick-borne illnesses.
According to the letter, the number of cases of Lyme disease and babesiosis climbed from 48 last year to 67 documented cases so far this year. Because of this, the members of the BIHS told Fine they were “extremely concerned.” But newly appointed DTF member Heather Hatfield asked that language be included in the letter to reflect the fact that some people may have been diagnosed with Lyme or other tick-borne diseases when they were off the island, despite having possibly contracted the disease here.
The concerns the BIHS board related in the letter “include the numbers, the cost of testing, and prevention strategies… Our un- and under-insured patients struggle with the cost of testing, and with our prevention strategies.”
The letter also ties in the impact on the island’s economy. “While islanders and visitors have suffered from tick-borne illnesses, the economy is at-risk also,” the letter states. “Tick-borne diseases are, to a large extent, preventable. We need your assistance as soon as possible to save the health and tourist-based economy of Block Island.”
The letter was copied to the members of the Block Island Town Council, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. Members of the task force asked that it also be copied to Rep. Jim Langevin and state Rep. Donna Walsh.
The DTF also planned on asking the Town Council to contribute a letter of support for the participation of the state DOH. First Warden Kim Gaffett, who was present at the DTF meeting, said the DTF needed to formally request the letter of support.
The DTF also said it needed to discuss possible fundraising opportunities so that the plan to reduce the deer herd, in whatever form it may take, will be funded. DTF Chair Ruth Perfido said the state would not fund the deer reduction.
To help raise money, the DTF unveiled a new hat, which will be sold for $20 ($5 of which will go to the DTF), that is lime green (a takeoff on the word Lyme), and has the words “Ticked Off!” over the beak in front and the words “I’ve had it!” on the back.
The words “I’ve had it!” said Perfido, have a double meaning.