To Reduce Anxiety, Vaccine Program Should Have Had Central Booking

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The psychological impacts of how one is required to obtain  a COVID-19 vaccination in Massachusetts could have been foreseen, but, understandably, they were not: our state has never before attempted to vaccinate more than four million citizens in a compressed timeframe during a global pandemic.

Today, most Massachusetts citizens who want to get a shot for COVID-19 -- unlike their counterparts, say, in New Jersey or Florida or New Mexico -- have to get on a new state website and hunt for their own appointment at the same time that hundreds of thousand of other folks are hunting too. With demand for shots far exceeding supply, the large majority of vaccine seekers have not succeeded in securing these coveted appointments.  

People are spending long periods on computers filling out the required form, only to be told at the expected culmination of the process that there are no available appointments and they'll have to try again later.  When they sign off, all the information they have provided vanishes, meaning they'll have to fill out the form again (and again) until one day they get lucky. 

If the Governor Baker administration had, instead, incorporated a central registration feature into its electronic sign-ups, as some other states have done, persons would have filled out the form only once and subsequently been notified when appointments in their areas became available.

No system designed in a hurry to deal with an unprecedented national medical emergency would ever have been perfect, and I'm sure there are some drawbacks and downsides to a system built around central registration; however, one of the beauties of central registration is that it provides users with an instant feeling of accomplishment or progress.  People feel: "I'm in the system.  They know me. It's a just matter of time before I get my shot."

By contrast, in Massachusetts, way too many folks who are doing what they are instructed to do, and failing repeatedly to secure an appointment, have become frustrated and obsessed about when, or even whether, they'll be able to get a shot.  They feel:  "I've put hours into this and gotten nowhere.  Next week, I'll have to do it again -- and probably strike out again.  I'm on the outs.  And no one cares."  

Mass frustration with the COVID-19 vaccine finder website is overshadowing the actual good results of this program.

As of last Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1,084,888 persons had received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 433,593 persons had received both doses.  Also, 77% of vaccine doses shipped here by the federal government had been administered.

Massachusetts is best in the nation for first doses administered per capita among states with five million or more citizens, and ranks second in the nation for percentage of Black residents who have gotten at least one shot.  

Also, Massachusetts has administered more than three times the doses per capita as the European Union and more than five times per capita as Canada.

State Senator Diane DiZoglio, D-Methuen, has filed a bill that would require the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to institute a central registration system for COVID-19 vaccinations.  If I were the governor, I'd pre-empt that by ordering EOHHS to implement such a system as soon as possible.  Right away people would feel better about the program.  And maybe they'd start thinking about the good things the administration has done in fighting the pandemic.


HEAD-SPINNING NUMBERS: During a virtual hearing this past Thursday of the legislature's Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness, Charlie Baker was asked for the numbers on federal pandemic aid to the Commonwealth.  His answer made me sit up and take notice.  Seventy-one billion dollars has come to Massachusetts one way or another through four major federal relief programs, Baker said, adding that $20 billion-plus of that went to unemployment insurance, $27 billion to Payroll Protection Program benefits for businesses, and $8 billion to stimulus checks for individuals and families.  It's hard to imagine how badly we'd be doing now without that help from Washington.





Oh Happy Day When COVID Ends...but a Bigger Test Is Coming

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the biggest test of our nation's strength and character.  That will come after, when we decide what we will do (or not) about the inequities revealed by the pandemic.

Based on how the U.S. responded to similar inequities after the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, there's reason to expect we will fail the post-COVID-19 test, with terrible consequences for our country.

A great deal has been written and said about how some population groups have been hurt more deeply than others during the current pandemic; no single post could summarize all the evidence of such impacts. Here are just two examples:

  • Last summer, the COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported that Black non-Hispanic residents and Hispanic residents in our Commonwealth have a three-times higher positive coronavirus case rate than white, non-Hispanic residents, and that Black and Hispanic residents also have higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths compared to white or Asian residents.
  • In the Fall 2020 edition of "Harvard Public Health," the magazine of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Madeline Drexler wrote, "Today's coronavirus pandemic is the only public health crisis in the last hundred years as profoundly disruptive to society as the 1918 flu.  And like the 1918 pandemic, it has unmasked persistent racial injustice.  According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, one of the most reliable sources of data on racial disparities in today's catastrophe, as of September 1, 2020, COVID-19 had killed at least 36,320 Black people in the U.S.  A collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, the Racial Data Tracker also found that while Black people make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 22 percent of deaths in which race is known.  Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at 2.4 times the rate of white people."

The Spanish Flu killed somewhere between 50 million and 100 million around the world, including up to 850,000 in the U.S., about .81% of our population at the time.  Those deaths were a collective shock to the nation unlike anything else in history.  Yet, within a few years, the shock effects had worn off and Americans were reveling in the prosperity of the Roaring 20s.  

Long ago, I read somewhere that one reason we seemed to move on quickly from those 850,000 deaths was that immigrants, desperate for a new start in America, quickly replaced those who had been taken by the flu.

Today, the COVID-19 death toll in the US stands at around 489,000.  We don't know how much worse it will get.  Let's be hopeful, optimistic; let's say U.S. deaths will top off at 525,000.    

The U.S. could admit that number of immigrants in 2022, if it wanted to. (Maybe we should for reasons totally unrelated to COVID-19.)  And if we happened to do that, let us hope that, when 2023 rolls around, the U.S. is seriously addressing racial and economic injustices rather than mindlessly enjoying prosperity's rebirth.    

I'll end with an excerpt from a recent report by the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Written by Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas and Eric Hoyt, the report was titled, "The COVID-19 Recession: An Opportunity to Reform Our Low Wage Economy?"

"If the recovery from the COVID-19 recession follows the path of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, it will generate mainly low-wage, low quality jobs, and we as a nation will have embraced our past failings yet again.  The ability of the U.S. to respond to crises of any sort depends on the resiliency of its people and institutions.  If we do not make access to health care, sick and family leave, and living wages a social right before the next economic crisis -- whether it is financial, viral , or some new surprise -- we will have failed again to learn the shameful lessons of our own history.  If we do not disrupt the power dynamics that leave most workers exposed to insecurity and poverty level employment, we will leave our country vulnerable to economic and social collapse, perhaps now, certainly in future crises -- whether economic or political."






  

In Grim Week at the Capitol, MA Politicians Were at Least Voices of Sanity

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Until this week, I believed that the Trump propaganda campaign alleging Joe Biden "stole" the election would collapse, perhaps soon, under the astonishing weight of its own absurdity.

Then two things happened: 45 Republican members of the U.S. Senate voted for a measure asserting that a Trump impeachment trial would be unconstitutional, which strongly suggested Trump will be acquitted at trial of inciting the January 6 attack on the Capitol; and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader in the U.S. House, who has backtracked from an initial statement that Trump bore some responsibility for the attack, made a special trip to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump's ring and make up.

I think now that Trump will be able to sustain the big lie for many months, if not years, to come.  

Crime does pay. 

The truth that Trump lost appears to be gaining acceptance generally in the country, but the lie that Biden stole the presidency is still held dear by a large majority of Republicans.  According to poll results announced five days ago by the Monmouth University (NJ) Polling Institute, "...fully 72% of Republicans persist in believing that Biden's win is due to voter fraud."

Patrick Murray, director of the institute, said, "A number of ostensible leaders in the Republican Party continue to peddle this false narrative and many more who know this claim is wrong have not been particularly outspoken in disavowing it.  Their fellow partisans in the American public are simply following that lead."

Trump has to be spending most of his days in Florida laughing. Who needs evidence when you've got partisans like this?

The only bright spot for me this week were comments by two Massachusetts congressmen and one former Massachusetts governor condemning the most out-there Republican to come along in years, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Greene is the gun-toting, venom-spewing, Stop-the-Steal-embracing, newly elected congresswoman from Georgia's ultra-red 14th District.  Please Google her if you want to glimpse the scope of her awfulness.  I'll give just one example: in January, 2019, she "liked" the sentiment, expressed somewhere on the Internet, that "a bullet to the head" would be a good way of removing Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the House.  

Needless to say, Greene liked the way her fellow "patriots" took the law into their own hands on January 6. Before the mayhem erupted, she called the electoral college count protest a "1776 moment."

A spokesman for McCarthy described Greene's comments on social media as "deeply disturbing" and said his boss "plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them."  

Note to McCarthy: Make sure Greene goes through a metal detector before sitting down for that tete-a-tete. 

Yesterday, Jake Auchincloss (like Greene, a rookie in the House) tweeted: "The GOP knew what it was getting well before Marjorie Taylor Greene when it embraced Donald Trump in 2016 -- that is really when a ticking time bomb began.  GOP leaders own this issue and they all need to take ownership of removing this faction of white supremacy and extremism."

Jim McGovern, who has served in the House for 24 years, tweeted Friday, "This is sick. What the hell is going on with you @GOP Leader McCarthy?  You won't even condemn extremists in your own Republican Conference who advocated for the execution of a member of Congress.  What a disgrace.  Both of you should resign."

Mitt Romney, our governor from 2003 to 2007, and now a Senator from Utah, was quoted today in Politico saying: "Lies of a feather flock together: Marjorie Taylor Greene's nonsense and the 'big lie' of a stolen election."

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Greene is taking a play from her hero Trump's book, using  the controversy she ignited to turbocharge her fundraising on the Internet.  


If DiCarlo Hadn't Messed Up, Would Bulger Still Have Become Senate President?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Joseph C. DiCarlo died on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, at the age of 84. The notice of his death appeared in The Boston Globe five days later.  It said he had waged a courageous battle against cancer and "left this world peacefully, bathed in spirit, beauty and love." It listed his survivors, who include his wife of 62 years, his three children and their spouses, four grandchildren, one great-grandchild, three brothers and a sister-in-law. (A fourth brother had died before him.)  The notice ended with a suggestion of an end-of-life care agency to which the aggrieved could make contributions in DiCarlo's name; a statement that funeral services would be private; and the website of the funeral home handling the arrangements, where persons could leave written condolences.

There was nothing in the notice about DiCarlo's professional activities, nor about his substantial accomplishments in the political arena.  Once a highly regarded public schoolteacher, he had been elected from his hometown of Revere to both the Massachusetts House and Senate back in the Sixties.  In the Senate, he  represented a three-county district anchored in Revere and encompassing the communities of Everett, Saugus and Winthrop. 

In the upper branch, DiCarlo rose and flourished like a fast-growing pine.  

First elected to the Senate in 1968, he was by 1971 the Assistant Majority Leader of the Democrats. 

Senate President Kevin Harrington of Salem promoted him to Majority Leader in 1973. 

There was nothing in the death notice to indicate he had once been a powerful figure on Beacon Hill, a politician of natural gifts perceived as a likely future president of the Senate and even as a potential governor of the Commonwealth one day.

Newspaper death notices are not obituaries, which are news stories on the deceased written by reporters.  Rather, they are customary advertisements paid for by families of the deceased and placed by funeral directors at the behest of families. Families put what they want into death notices and omit what they don't want.

To my knowledge, no Boston-based newspaper, television or radio station produced a standard, comprehensive obituary on Joe DiCarlo.  If one had, they almost certainly would have mentioned his federal district court conviction in 1977 on charges related to the shakedown of a construction management company, McKee-Berger-Mansueto, which was responsible for supervising the construction of the UMass Boston campus. This became known as "the MBM scandal."

DiCarlo and another member of the Senate, Ronald C. MacKenzie, a Republican from Burlington, had been jointly charged and convicted in the case. They were found to have extorted money from MBM in exchange for ensuring that a Senate oversight committee would render a favorable report on the company's planning and quality control work at the newly-relocated/newly-built university complex at Columbia Point.

In a February 26, 1977, article, "2 Massachusetts State Senators Are Convicted in Extortion Case," The New York Times reported:

"The Senators were both found guilty of the entire eight-count Federal indictment.  It included one count of violating the Hobbs Act, which makes it illegal to extort money under threat of economic injury or through the misuse of public office; five counts of violating the Federal Travel Act, which outlaws the use of interstate transportation or communications in connection with the committing of an illegal act, and one count each of conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act and conspiracy to violate the Travel Act....

"Senator MacKenzie was accused of taking money from the construction company on at least five different occasions.  Senator DiCarlo was not accused of actually taking money, but was charged with being part of the 'criminal venture' because he was chairman of the committee that was investigating the construction contract." 

After their convictions, DiCarlo and MacKenzie both refused to resign from the Senate, so action to expel them commenced.  

On March 31, 1977, the day before the Senate Ethics Committee issued its report on their offenses, MacKenzie resigned.  DiCarlo continued to resist calls for his resignation.  

On April 4, 1977, the full Senate voted 28 to 8 to expel DiCarlo, the first time any member of the body had ever been thrown out like that.  DiCarlo then ran in the special election held to fill his seat -- and lost to a young alderman from Everett, Frank Mastrocola.  

DiCarlo and MacKenzie served nine and ten months, respectively, in federal prison.

After doing time, DiCarlo and MacKenzie became model citizens.  DiCarlo worked in various professional jobs.  The disbarred MacKenzie, after working for years as a paralegal, won back his license to practice law.

DiCarlo was 41 years old when his life in politics came crashing down, meaning he lived another 43 years.  I do not think it's fair to define Joe DiCarlo's 84 years on earth by the MBM scandal 

None of us wants to be judged entirely by our worst choice, our darkest moment, our biggest mistake, nor should most of us be so judged. 

Some of us pay a much stiffer price for our mistakes than others. 

That was true for DiCarlo, MacKenzie and countless other public office malefactors through the ages. Their falls from grace, their public shamings, their ruined political careers, exceed by geometric proportions the defeats and humiliations endured by average (private) citizens. 

As justice required, DiCarlo and MacKenzie paid dearly for their transgressions.  And, long ago,  they earned the right to forgiveness.

As I see it, there's only one good reason now to resurrect this case.  At the time of his indictment and arrest, Joe DiCarlo was a certifiable political phenomenon, a charismatic, silver-tongued orator in the prime of life. He was riding high in the legislature, the odds-on favorite to succeed the near legendary Harrington.

As it turned out, the man Harrington named to replace DiCarlo as majority leader was William Bulger of South Boston, who, in the following year, 1978, would be elected by his peers as Harrington's successor.  

For the next 17 years, Bulger ruled over the Senate, accumulating and wielding great power. He had a run at the top unlike that of any comparable Massachusetts figure in modern times.

Maybe Bulger would have become Senate President one day whether or not DiCarlo got into trouble with the feds.  Maybe not.  Maybe the stars were aligned for him only in that precise moment 42 years ago and would never again line up with such force and  finality.  In one sense, it is not at all a stretch to regard the late Joe DiCarlo as the man who made Bill Bulger.


Mariano's Acceptance Speech a Good Map of Where He Wants to Take House

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Yesterday, December 30, Ronald Mariano of Quincy, a former public schoolteacher who has served as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives for nine of the 11-plus years of the speakership of Robert DeLeo, was elected to succeed DeLeo, who is leaving the House for a job at Northeastern University.  As is the custom in the legislature, Mariano delivered an acceptance speech on the occasion.  Reading the excellent transcript of that speech on the State House News Service, I was struck by how specific Mariano was on so many policy points, although I was not surprised, given his long experience on Beacon Hill and his reputation for skillfully negotiating the final shape of bills whenever he served on House-Senate conference committees -- and he served on many of  the major-law/major-issue conference committees of the last three decades.  As a look into the mind and heart of Speaker Mariano, now one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Commonwealth, I broke his speech into blocks and introduced each one, as follows, with a brief explanation or comment (in boldface).

First, he recognized by name all of the House members who, mainly through retirement, will not be returning to the legislature in January.  Because of the pandemic, departing members will not be able to give traditional farewell speeches during the final House sessions of  2020.

"...I am very grateful for the opportunity to mark this occasion with you all, whether you are in the chamber or watching from home.  But I am also mindful that we will not be able to celebrate several distinguished careers with farewell addresses.  Those members include: Reps. Crocker, Cullinane, Hay, Hecht, Kafka, R. Hunt, Nangle, Naughton, Petrolati, Poirier, Provost, Speliotis, Tosado, Vega and Vincent.*  And I want to pay special attention to the dean of the House (Scaccia), who is retiring after 23 terms."

He was gracious toward the dean of the House, Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, who was a thorn in the side of Speaker DeLeo and his leadership team.  As the current longest-serving member of the House, Scaccia served as presiding officer during the voting for new Speaker.

"I want to thank Angelo Scaccia, forever the gentleman, for joining us today.  As many of you know, this man is a Marine and a decorated veteran of Vietnam, who came home and decided to continue to serve his community by seeking elected office.  For decades he has been a steadfast champion of social services and of the many programs that are a quiet lifeline.  We've served together for a long time and during that time, we have been on the same side of many issues.  We haven't been in agreement on every issue.  I was lucky enough to prevail through debating techniques.  But I've always, and will always, hold a deep respect for his service to our country."

He artfully tied his personal history to the history of his hometown and the Commonwealth, using one of the five "Milestones on the Road to Freedom" murals in the House chamber to make his point: John Adams drafting the Massachusetts Constitution at his kitchen table in Quincy in 1779.

"It's a true honor to be elected Speaker of the House and to have earned the trust and confidence of my esteemed colleagues.  And it's not lost on me that I accept this great honor in an historic chamber that is nearly empty.  But even with our members scattered throughout the Commonwealth, these walls still inspire a sense of awe and reverence.  As I stand at this rostrum as your next Speaker, I'm reminded of my very first day in this chamber.  I was born and raised by the shipyards of Quincy, where my father earned his living, after his father left Italy with his sights set on the American dream.  When I first took the oath of office, I did so on their shoulders, and under the watchful reminders of our founding moments, depicted in the scenes above me.  One of them is in Quincy.  These scenes reflect an undeniable truth that should both humble and inspire us: America follows Massachusetts's lead."

He placed his service in the House within the context of the Commonwealth's history of innovation and of developing new solutions to public policy questions.

"From the founding years of this country to the social and scientific advances of modern times, Massachusetts has always been the spearhead of progress.  As the state representative for Quincy, Weymouth and Holbrook, and as Majority Leader, I have had the privilege of serving my constituents in this House and playing a part in that Massachusetts mantle of leadership.  It was not too long ago that access to high-quality, affordable health care was out of reach for hundreds of thousands of uninsured people in our Commonwealth.  But our Health Care Reform Law of 2006 changed that, and it went on to serve as a template for the Affordable Care Act nationally.  I was chairman of Financial Services at that time and served on the conference committee that got that law to the governor's desk.  Massachusetts is the greatest incubator for innovative thinking, in our world-class universities and research institutions, and right here in the House of Representatives.  Whether it's health care policy, the groundbreaking victory of same-sex marriage, or implementing the toughest gun laws in the country, other states turn to Massachusetts for leadership in matters of public policy."

He spotlighted the impact of his predecessor's "steadfast fiscal leadership."

"In recent years, the House has much to be proud of.  And, for that, every member of this body and all of the residents of the Commonwealth, owe a debt of gratitude to Speaker Bob DeLeo.  During the nearly 12 years of his leadership, Speaker DeLeo brought to this chamber an unprecedented level of stability, respectful debate, and consensus-building.  The result of that has been an impressive list of accomplishments.  After years of disciplined investment in our Rainy Day Fund, his steadfast fiscal leadership made possible a strong Fiscal Year 2021 budget in an otherwise struggling economy.  The rainy day has come, and those funds have been used to avoid major cuts to vital programs."

He went on to praise DeLeo's accomplishments in a number of areas. 

"He (DeLeo) also helped establish Massachusetts as a model for gun control laws, raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and guaranteed paid sick leave for workers.  He worked to protect the rights of transgender people and then helped beat back a referendum seeking to repeal that law.  He put us on the path toward racial justice with comprehensive criminal justice reform and guided us through the adoption of modern standards for training and accountability in law enforcement.  Public school teachers, like my wife Eve and I, know more than anyone the dire need to increase state support for our schools.  The Student Opportunity Act makes a long-overdue update to the current funding formula, along with increased support of other vital education aid programs.  And we must renew this commitment to our students during our economic recovery."

He identified "job number one" as "meeting the needs of each resident" during the pandemic.

"But, while we may be proud of our history of leadership and the gains we've made, there is no question that we find ourselves in a moment of reckoning.  No family, no community, no one has been left untouched by this pandemic.  Ten months in, we remain in a state of uncertainty and, in far too many cases, dealing with grief or job loss.  All of us have faced challenges, whether it be with at-home learning, providing for the oldest and youngest in our care, or with maintaining our own mental health.  Certainly, no one has sacrificed more than our frontline health care workers, public safety personnel, and even our grocery store clerks.  The climb back to where we were just one year ago will be a long one, but this is job number one: meeting the needs of each resident through this time of crisis.  This has been the focus of our work over these past 10 months."

He committed to striving for "lasting, positive change" on racial injustice and economic inequality.

"The members of our COVID-19 Working Group have guided us through the daunting logistical challenges of gathering virtually.  Their work allowed us to pass crucial legislation in response to the ongoing pandemic.  We provided tax relief to small businesses.  We increased unemployment benefits and implemented the strongest eviction and foreclosure moratorium in the country.  We've made telehealth a permanent fixture in our health care system and expanded the options available for voters to cast their ballots.  But, make no mistake. Getting back to where we were a year ago is not enough.  There is another crisis this pandemic has revealed: the great divide between rich and poor, Black and White, rural and urban, has been made all too obvious.  The disproportionate suffering of communities of color, in particular, has exposed the frailty of our safety net and the inequality that has been hiding in plain sight.  We must turn this crisis into an opportunity to make lasting, positive change."

He asked Joe Biden to "look to Massachusetts" for inspiration as the new president "builds back better."

"President-elect Joe Biden has said that his presidency will be focused on 'building back better.'  Well, I say, 'Look to Massachusetts, Mr. President!'  It's a Massachusetts company that has given the world one of the vaccines that promises a return to normalcy.  And it was this legislature that made the billion-dollar investment so that the biopharmaceutical industry could take root right here.  We should be proud to say this recovery will be 'Made in Massachusetts.' "

He categorized broadband access and high-speed internet among infrastructure improvements Massachusetts needs.

"The recovery begins by getting people back to work and investing in our community colleges, placing them at the center of the retooling of Massachusetts workers.  And when young people do go back to work, there's no reason that anyone's commute should be longer than one hour.  That means strengthening our infrastructure.  Not just the rails, roads and bridges that carry workers to their offices and job sites, but also the broadband and high-speed internet that will allow more people to work from home.  We've invested millions in laying cable to reach the rural and oftentimes overlooked areas of our state.  But we have failed to appreciate the depth of the digital divide in our most populated cities."

He emphasized "meaningful zoning reform" at the local level to address "our housing infrastructure," which he declared is "at a breaking point."

"We are also at a breaking point in terms of our housing infrastructure.  People want to live and work in Massachusetts, but we don't have the housing stock to welcome them.  Meaningful zoning reform can change that.  The one-hour-or-less commute also means we can't create all the jobs in one small corner of the Commonwealth."

He saw the development of our "green economy" as the main way to create "new opportunities" in every part of the state.

"We need to create opportunities in each county, from Berkshire to Barnstable, and everywhere in between.  The path to that reality is making Massachusetts a leader in the green economy.  We are on the cusp of an offshore wind energy revolution, and it will begin off our shores."

He put teaching hospitals on notice that he's sticking to his position in favor of greater state funding for community hospitals.

"It also means strengthening our community hospitals, which not only form an important part of our health care landscape but are also critical economic engines in the Gateway Cities where they're located."

He put drug companies on notice that he's determined to address the "skyrocketing cost of pharmaceuticals."

"I'm also committed to addressing the biggest health care dilemma facing this country: the skyrocketing cost of pharmaceuticals.  The challenge we face is curbing the cost of the generic drugs millions need to live, while also encouraging the scientific breakthroughs that are giving new hope to people suffering from serious diseases.  This is a tall order, but I know how the work gets done: by listening first and understanding where people are coming from.  Only then can we build consensus around legislation that can make the lives of people better -- and that can be passed and signed by the governor.  This is often frustrating work.  But it does work."

He let dissenters know that he bears no grudges.

"The House benefits from a wide range of passionate voices.  After years of frustrating results from Washington, a new generation of advocates have focused their energies on state government.  We have, and we must continue, to rise to the occasion.  Although we may approach issues differently, it is our partnership that gets things done.  I welcome those new voices, hungry for change, who are not afraid to press for more, and who expected us to be bold.  But it's also my job to know that just agreeing in principal to calls for bold change is not enough."

He invited every rep to join him in the conversations "where all important change begins." 

"In the reality of governing, we must live in the world of the possible and not make perfection the enemy of progress.  While this may be an introduction for most people outside this chamber, for my colleagues this isn't the first time you've heard me talk about these issues.  The truth is, one of the most rewarding parts of my job has been building relationships with each of you.  I've kept my door open  -- not always happy about that -- and whether you've been here for decades or only a few weeks, you've walked in to pay me a visit.  And we start where all important change begins: with a conversation.  I pledge to all of you that my door will continue to be open.  I look forward to our continued collaboration and exchange of ideas.  We have a lot of work to do together.  Thank you."


*Full names, cities/towns, and parties of departing representatives: William L. Crocker, R-Barnstable; Daniel Cullinane, D-Boston; Stephen L. Hay, D-Fitchburg; Jonathan Hecht, D-Watertown; Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich; Louis L. Kafka, D-Stoughton; David M. Nangle, D-Lowell; Harold P. Naughton, Jr., D-Clinton; Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow; Elizabeth A. Poirier, R-North Attleboro; Denise Provost, D-Somerville; Angelo M. Scaccia, D-Readville; Theodore C. Speliotis, D-Danvers; Jose F. Tosado, D-Springfield; Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke; RoseLee Vincent, D-Revere.


New Research Report Makes Strong Financial Case for Housing the Homeless

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

In Boston, we see them early in the morning, asleep in doorways, swathed head to toe in grimy  blankets and plastic bags.

We see them on the sidewalks at all hours, shaking cups, asking for spare change.

When night comes on, we see them in small groups in alleyways and on stairs to the subway.  They smoke cigarettes or joints, they argue vehemently about what seems nonsensical.

The Homeless.  

We see them everywhere; seldom do we really look at them or think of them.  

At such misery and desperation, it's hard to look squarely, and even  harder to look at with an open heart and mind.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as of January 2019, Massachusetts had an estimated 18,471 persons who were experiencing homelessness on any given day.  (The number is almost certainly higher now due to the economic damage wrought by the pandemic.)

Of that total, HUD said, 3,766 were families, that is, households without a house; 917 were military veterans, 480 were unaccompanied young adults ranging from 18 to 24 years of age, and 2,370 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

For our homeless fellow Americans, living under constant stress and uncertainty, in unsanitary conditions, exposed to severe weather, is a recipe for bad health, premature aging, and early death.

The homeless are more likely to have HIV/AIDS, lung diseases, malnutrition, infected wounds, skin diseases, mental illness and addictions to alcohol and drugs. 

According to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, homeless persons in their 50s have more geriatric conditions than those who are decades older.

"Because of prolonged exposure to stress, those living in poverty often experience premature aging, also known as weathering," writes Liz Seegert in an article published by the Association of Health Care Journalists.  "Weathering can dramatically impact those without stable housing, causing individuals to prematurely age by 10 to 20 years beyond their chronological age."

Although they may exist as outcasts in our midst, in a realm beyond the everyday thoughts and concerns of we who are securely housed, all of us have a practical stake in the heath and well-being of the homeless.

Public resources, principally in the form of Medicaid, cover the tab when homeless citizens end up in hospital emergency rooms, which too often function -- never efficiently -- as their primary care providers.  

How we are dealing with the homeless, or not, has to be a policy priority.-- which is why we all should appreciate what the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation has done in its latest research report on the topic of supportive housing programs for the chronically homeless, released Dec. 22.

The study examined the effect upon Medicaid expenditures of two statewide programs, Home and Healthy for Good, and Social Innovation Financing Pay for Success, which have served, respectively, more than 1,100 and more than 800 formerly chronically homeless individuals since 2005 and 2015. 

The study found that:

-Individuals enrolled in permanent supportive housing programs had significantly lower per-person, per-year health care costs on average, compared to a cohort of homeless that did not receive such services.

-Individuals in these programs received significantly more mental health services; however, the cost of those services was more than offset by lower utilization of hospital inpatient and emergency department services.

-Supportive housing models may produce health care costs savings and also positive health effects through more consistent access to mental health services.  

Said Audrey Shelto, president of the foundation, This "...adds to a growing body of research that demonstrates investments in social determinants of health -- in this case supportive housing for the chronically homeless -- not only lead to better health, but also provide a significant return in the form of lower Medicaid costs...the data are in: People (in supportive housing) are getting more of the services that they need and at net lower cost."

Getting people off the street is the right thing to do, morally and financially.

For more info, go to bluecrossmafoundation.org

SHOUT-OUT TO EASTERN BANK: As reported today by The Boston Globe's Jon Chesto, the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation has just awarded $3 million to various non-profits, "primarily with the goal of addressing homelessness and other housing concerns."  Among the largest recipients of that money, Chesto wrote, is the Pine Street Inn, "which is struggling to keep up with the demand for homeless beds in Boston."

MA GOP Leader Embraces a Losing Trump, Ignores a Successful Baker

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Massachusetts Republican Party has been going through a rough patch for quite some time. 

Nothing that happened to the party on Nov. 3rd made things smoother.

Republicans lost one Senate seat and one House seat, meaning they will have only three senators out of 40, and 29 representatives out of 160 when the new legislature convenes in January.  Their membership in the upper branch will be at its lowest level since at least 1970, according to the State House News Service.

WBUR radio's Anthony Brooks pointed out in a Nov. 19 report: "The state GOP will enter the new year with a shrinking minority on Beacon Hill, no members in Congress and internal divisions that are forcing a reckoning."

"Internal divisions" was primarily a reference to the upcoming fight for Republican Party chairman, a position now held by former Andover rep Jim Lyons, whose heart beats fast at the mention of Donald Trump's name.  

Lyons's devotion to Trump puts him sideways with the most popular, most successful Republican in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker, whose calm, cerebral, non-partisan approach to governing is the opposite of the president's. 

Trump has long made our guv uncomfortable.  Baker announced before the latest election he would not be voting for his party's national leader.

Shawn Dooley, a Republican rep from Norfolk, will run for chairman against Lyons at the next state GOP convention.  "Dooley faults the party," as Brooks put it, "for being too focused on Donald Trump instead of core Republican values like lower taxes, personal freedom and supporting the police amidst calls for reform."

There are also divisions within the current Republican party apparatus.  Tom Mountain, vice chairman of the party, moans that the GOP "got completely clobbered" on Nov. 3, while a paradoxically upbeat Lyons claims Trump "has energized a core of Republican voters who will help the party win elections in the future," according to the story filed by Brooks.    

Question: Why would Trump-generated energy help future Republican candidates in Massachusetts when it failed to do so on Nov. 3, as Trump collected 1,167,202 votes here (32.3%) ?  [Joe Biden won the support of 2,382,202 (65.9%) Massachusetts voters.]

Go to the homepage of the Republican party website, massgop.com, and you find a big picture of Trump, not Baker, the only thing standing between the party and oblivion in the Commonwealth. 

In the website's "About Us" section, it says, "We believe that free enterprise, low taxes, and fewer regulations are the best ways to grow our economy in order to create good, high-paying jobs across Massachusetts."

If Shawn Dooley displaces Jim Lyons, I'd urge him to come up with something different.  He should consider a party credo more in line with the popular, time-tested Baker model of governing and more appealing to independent voters, something along these lines:

"We believe in spending every tax dollar carefully, creating the smartest, most innovative state government possible, and serving as a much-needed counterweight to the Democratic Party."