Bangor committee recommends merging advisory group with health board

Posted Sept. 25, 2012, at 7:04 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 25, 2012, at 4:09 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Pending official approval by the Bangor City Council, Bangor’s public health services will merge with the city’s Community Advisory Group and Public Health Advisory Board.

“I think bringing these groups together, the results will be greater than the sum of the two working separately,” said Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s director of health and community services. “The advisory group and advisory board were seen as working on similar issues, or parts of the same issues at different points, so we thought it made sense to bring the expertise of both groups together. This allows one group to examine these issues much more comprehensively and not duplicate efforts.”

The Community Advisory Group has been around in its present form since 2004 and has been a body for those involved and interested in Bangor’s methadone clinic issues. It has facilitated those who want to air grievances, gain knowledge or discuss other issues regarding the clinics or services they provide.

The problem with the group — according to Yardley and Paul Nicklas, the city’s assistant solicitor — is the group’s infrequent meeting schedule, sometimes meeting several times in a year and other times going over a year without a single meeting.

“There haven’t been any significant issues regarding the clinics or spikes in crime or incidents, so there hasn’t been a real need to meet,” said Yardley. “The Public Health Advisory Board is appointed by the council through city ordinance and we have a robust substance abuse task force through that already.”

Charlie Longo has been the only member of the Bangor City Council to object to the merger. His objection comes from a belief that the move would leave community businesses and residents without a voice.

“We’re turning our backs on them,” Longo said after a committee meeting last week.

Yardley says that’s not the case at all.

“What we’re doing is we’re bringing them into a broader, more comprehensive conversation regarding substance abuse. We’re not segregating that particular angle of addiction,” he said. “If anything, it’ll improve the discussion that was going on in separate groups and bring it together.

“This may actually help to broaden the conversation,” Yardley said.

The council’s government operations committee voted 3-1 — Longo cast the lone dissenting vote — last week to recommend the merger, under which the Public Health Advisory Board will absorb the functions of the Community Advisory Board, according to Nicklas.

“The PHAB will provide a more consistent meeting schedule, and will bring discussion of methadone and clinics into a group with a broader perspective,” Nicklas said in a council memorandum.

The full council voted 9-0 Monday night to send it back to committee for public discussion and comment.

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