Boston Globe: Full disclosure on deaths at nursing homes will take time, state officials say

New law mandates detailed reporting of COVID-19 cases but governor is moving to scale it back

By Todd Wallack and Robert Weisman Globe Staff,Updated June 23, 2020, 11:52 a.m.

State public health officials say they need more time to comply with a new law requiring them to provide the precise number of COVID-19 deaths and cases at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other senior residences throughout Massachusetts.

The Department of Public Health has so far provided limited data about outbreaks at the facilities, following pressure from the news media, lawmakers, and advocates.

bill sponsored by Representative Ruth Balser, Democrat of Newton, mandating that the state significantly ramp up reporting about long-term-care sites, was passed by the Legislature late last month and signed by Governor Charlie Baker early this month.

The agency said it hopes to provide additional data in “coming weeks,” but did not provide a date.

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New law requires more COVID-19 data-gathering

Commonwealth Magazine: More information sought on race, individual nursing homes

SHIRA SCHOENBERG Jun 8, 2020

THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH will need to publish more transparent data about the number of COVID-19 cases in individual long-term care facilities, and will also need to publish new racial and occupational data about coronavirus cases, under a bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law Sunday.

“For a month and a half now we’ve been asking for this information…in order to better prepare for how we’re going to address the most affected communities,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat who chairs the Black and Latino legislative caucus.

As the coronavirus pandemic has swept the state, the Department of Public Health has been regularly changing the way it reports COVID-19 data, with daily and weekly updates. But advocates for racial minorities and those focusing on nursing home outbreaks have been pushing for more specific data.

Rep. Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat who chairs the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs and sponsored an early version of the bill, said since seniors in group living facilities are the most vulnerable population to the virus, the public and policymakers need accurate, preciseand comprehensive information by facility.

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The public should know how many nursing home residents are dying of coronavirus — and where

If the Baker administration won’t publicize nursing home COVID-19 information, it falls to the Legislature to step in.

By The Editorial BoardUpdated May 21, 2020, 11:11 a.m.

As public policy goes, it’s pretty simple. Families with loved ones in nursing homes and other senior living settings deserve to know the whole truth about COVID-19 testing results and the actual death count in any specific facility.

And so does the public. After all, Governor Charlie Baker just announced the state will give nursing homes — which are already taxpayer-subsidized — another $130 million to bolster their response to the coronavirus. It’s only fair to expect transparency in exchange for that money.

But right now, there’s no way for the public to get that information. The state’s official coronavirus dashboard reports “confirmed cases” of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, not COVID-19 deaths in each facility. And even with confirmed cases, there’s no precise tally, just three broad reporting categories: more than 30, 10 to 30 and fewer than 10. Nor does the dashboard report how many residents have recovered from the virus, or provide any breakdown of employee versus resident statistics.Get Today in Opinion in your inboxGlobe Opinion’s must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.Sign Up

If the Baker administration won’t publicize that data, it falls to the Legislature to step in. Simple transparency was the goal of legislation proposed by state Representative Ruth Balser of Newton.  Click here to read more.

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Newton Rep. Balser calls for daily coronavirus reports from long-term care facilities

By Katie Lannan / State House News ServicePosted Apr 15, 2020 at 3:05 PMUpdated Apr 15, 2020 at 3:05 PM   

A virtual hearing is planned for Thursday on legislation that would require assisted living residences, elderly housing facilities and long-term care facilities to file daily reports with public health officials on their numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Under Rep. Ruth Balser’s bill (H 4635), the Department of Public Health would also be required to report to lawmakers each week the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in assisted living, elderly housing or long-term care facilities, plus demographic data. Click here to read more.

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Marking Purim, activists urge Safe Communities Act passage

TAUNTON DAILY GAZETTE – BOSTON – March 21, 2019 – Advocates on Thursday marked Purim by delivering hamantaschen — the Jewish holiday’s traditional baked good — to state lawmakers, asking them to honor the spirit of the occasion by passing a bill restricting state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

“Ultimately, Purim is a holiday about justice and protecting the vulnerable, and that is why we are all here today,” said Cindy Rowe, the executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Social Action, which sponsored the event. “Immigrants in our state and throughout the country are under threat from the federal government.”

Purim, Rowe said, is a holiday about remembering “the lives of the Jewish people that were threatened by a powerful king and his cruel advisor, Haman.” She said the heroine of the story is Queen Esther, who “speaks truth to power in order to protect her people from bigotry.”

The so-called Safe Communities Act (H 3573, S 1401), filed this session by Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Ruth Balser, would bar local police and court officers from inquiring about someone’s immigration status, and would stop them from notifying federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement about someone’s impending release from custody unless they were finishing a criminal sentence.

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Let’s secure a healthy energy future

Commonwealth Magazine, February 27, 2019

LOOKING AT RECENT HEADLINES, one sees that climate change—and the call for pioneering solutions to combat it—are now front and center in the public consciousness.

We are at the forefront of an opportunity to truly modernize the Commonwealth’s energy economy, improve the health of its communities and become a producer and exporter of renewable power rather than an importer of fossil fuels.

The majority of the newly elected Massachusetts state representatives – 14 freshman lawmakers — are united in their vision to build a renewable energy economy that will rein in greenhouse gas emissions and grow the 21st century green-tech job sector. Informally dubbed “GreenTeamMA,” this ambitious crop of legislators wants to reform the way that energy is made and used in the Bay State. Like many of the new faces in Congress who are working to educate voters on the benefits of a renewable energy economy for the country through the Green New Deal, GreenTeamMA supporters understand the economic, environmental, and human health imperative of swiftly shifting to a renewably-powered Bay State.

Last month, state Sen. Marc Pacheco and state Rep. Ruth Balser jointly filed An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future. This powerfully bold, visionary piece of legislation is something like a Green New Deal for Massachusetts; but rather than a broad resolution to be hammered out later, the bill presents specific prescriptions and timelines designed to guide businesses, municipalities, manufacturers, and electricity producers in transforming the way that energy is produced, stored, distributed and used. It considers where Massachusetts stands now with respect to climate change preparedness and fills in the gaps to get us where we need to be by 2050.

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Bill seeks to speed state’s transition to renewable energy

January 21, 2019- Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — A bill filed at the Massachusetts Statehouse seeks to help speed the state’s transition to renewable forms of energy.

The bill would update the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act by setting new emissions level requirements: 50 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2030, 75 percent below by 2040, and net zero emissions by 2050.

The Global Warming Solutions Act requires the state to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The bill was filed jointly by Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat and Representative Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat.

Lawmakers last year proposed a bill that would press Massachusetts to achieve total renewable electricity generation by 2035 and phase out fossil fuels across all sectors, including heating and transportation, by mid-century.

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Gov. Charlie Baker signs bill banning disability insurers from charging women more than men

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill Thursday banning insurers from charging women more than men for disability insurance policies.

“I am pleased to sign this bill ensuring everyone in the Commonwealth has fair and equal access to disability insurance,” Baker said in a statement. “Discrimination of any kind has no place in Massachusetts, and I thank the Legislature for passing this legislation and working with our Administration to continue to support women across the state.”

The new law will prohibit insurers that offer disability insurance from charging higher premiums or otherwise setting terms and conditions of coverage based solely on gender, race, religion, national origin, or other personal characteristics.

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Newton Legislative Delegation announces support for climate legislation

NewtonTAB-Posted Jan 18, 2019 at 9:12 AM

Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, and Rep. Ruth B. Balser, D-Newton, have announced that more than 80 state legislators have united in support of climate solutions in 2019. The statement circulated by Pacheco and Balser, A New Year’s Resolution: Committing to the Enactment and Implementation of Bold Climate Solutions in 2019, signals support for climate action in the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, and Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, both co-signed the statement.

“With the Trump administration’s refusal to address climate issues, the job of saving our planet falls to the states,” said Balser. “Recognizing that Massachusetts has always led the way, and aware of the fact that the latest scientific data informs us that we need to step up our efforts, I am pleased to join many of my House and Senate colleagues in committing to making climate solutions a top priority for this legislative session.”

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Governor Baker should sign these bills left over from 2018 session

January 4, 2019-Boston Globe mentions a bill championed by Rep. Balser that was ultimately signed into law.

The new legislative year on Beacon Hill is off and running, but there remain a few leftovers from the 2018 session still sitting on the governor’s desk. Two of them ought to become law.

The so-called Equifax bill to protect consumers in the wake of data breaches was amended at the request of the governor as formal sessions ended last summer. Its technical flaws fixed, it should surely now be ready for the governor’s signature.

Another bill, long overdue, was a surprise end-of-the year entry. It would ban sex discrimination in disability insurance sold on the individual market, where women have paid premiums averaging some 23 percent above those paid by men for the same coverage. Gender neutrality is already the rule on group policies for disability insurance — those purchased through an employer. Yet it’s not the rule for the estimated 11 percent of women who buy individual policies. Health insurance is already gender neutral, and in this state so are auto and homeowner’s insurance.

The bill, filed by state Representative Ruth Balser of Newton, has long been on the agenda of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and was supported by a legislative commission set up to study the issue. It’s simply a measure whose time has come.

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