Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Fakhreddine’

Workers and activists demand paid sick days

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

April 2, 2010

BOSTON – Janet Rapoza had to contend with sickness and her employer’s threats of termination during her 14 years of working at Wal-Mart.

“I was sick, fighting off two illnesses, and went over the three unpaid sick days multiple times,” said Rapoza, a New Bedford resident, during a rally Thursday at the State House.

The rally was held to show support for a bill that would require employers to provide paid sick time.

Although she fought, Rapoza said she saw “many people fired, including a woman whose son had asthma.”

More than 1.4 million workers in Massachusetts do not get paid sick days, and they have to choose between going to work sick or staying home and potentially losing their jobs, speakers said.

“This has to change,” said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, as the crowd cheered. “It’s a family issue and a public health issue. …It’s a common sense issue.”

Legislation before the Joint Committee on Healthcare Financing would require all employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. Employees would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.

Ellen Wallace, a senior attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services and a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition, said she often assists people who have been fired for being sick.

“There was one woman who called her doctor and said she had flu-like symptoms,” Wallace said. “Her doctor advised her not come into his office and not go into work until she had no more symptoms. She was fired from her job for taking her doctor’s advice.”

Richard Meier of Abington-based Meier & Associates is among the small-business owners opposed to the bill.

“I like to give employees everything I can, and keep them employed,” Meier said. “The Paid Sick Leave Act will make it that much more difficult.”

William Vernon, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said most small businesses already have paid sick leave benefits.

“I think the danger is the idea that the Massachusetts Legislature can determine what the benefits are for an employee,” said Vernon, who lives in Mansfield. “This bill is anti-business.”

Nurses rally for protections against patient abuse

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

April 1, 2010

BOSTON — Karen Coughlin has horror stories that span the 26 years she’s worked as a psychiatric nurse for the state Department of Mental Health.

“I’ve been punched, kicked, scratched, bit and had furniture thrown at me,” said Coughlin, who also serves as vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Coughlin’s experience was not unique to the 250 nurses who rallied at the State House on Wednesday to support legislation that would strengthen penalties against patients and visitors who assault nurses. The House passed the bill unanimously and extended the bill to include all health care workers.

Sandy Eaton, who works at Quincy Medical Center, said assaults sometimes happen when nurses try to stop the patients from hurting themselves or because they are inebriated.

“Thankfully, I’ve never had to have medical treatment from any assaults,” said Eaton. “But I’ve been kicked, and patients have attempted to bite me.”

Linda Condon, who lives in Brockton and works as a nurse in the emergency department at Morton Hospital in Taunton, told the supporters about multiple cases where her patient had physically assaulted her.

“I was sucker punched in the face,” said Condon as many people gasped and nodded their heads.

However, the bill also has some mental health care advocates worried.

“We are all for promoting the safety of nurses in the workplace,” said Susan Fendell, senior attorney at the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, which assists people with mental disabilities legally and protects their rights. “However, we are concerned about any bill that criminalizes any action that is caused by mental illness.”

The bill does not specifically say how patients with mental illnesses will be prosecuted, but does say that “whoever commits an assault or assault and battery” on a health care worker will be punished by 90 days to 2 1/2 years in prison, or fined between $500 and $5,000, or both.

“It seems to be redirecting people who should be treated by the mental health system to the legal system. There is no reason to clog up the courts,” Fendell said. “These are people who should be taken care of, rather than criminalized.

But Coughlin said competency laws are already in place to protect mentally ill patients. The bill, she said, targets purposeful assaults.

“This bill sends the message that it’s not OK to assault nurses,” Coughlin said.

House OKs special-election reimbursement

Friday, March 26th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

March 26, 2010

BOSTON —Towns and cities across the state are one step closer to getting repaid for the special elections that sent Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, the House voted to increase a $250 million supplemental budget for fiscal 2010 by $7.2 million so cities and towns can be reimbursed for the primary and final elections.

Quincy City Clerk John Shea was happy with the vote.

“It cost (Quincy) $155,000 for the extra two elections,” he said. “It’s very important for us to get this reimbursement.”

The House vote on the amendment was 156-1.

Rep. Vinny DeMacedo, R-Plymouth, said saddling cities and towns with the cost of the elections would be unfair.

“This late in a fiscal year, to absorb that cost would really be crippling to cities and towns,” deMacedo said. “I hope we as a body can live up to the commitment we made to cities and towns. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

However, the amendment would not cover the total cost of the special election – only the cost of running the polls.

“It doesn’t include other costs above and beyond that the city or town incurred … such as paper or renting space for election events to take place,” said Glen Briere, a spokesman from the state auditor’s office.

Municipalities have already seen money come back. Brockton Election Commissioner John McGeary said the state has reimbursed municipalities for three hours of operating costs. It is an unfunded mandate that required polling places to be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., three hours later than the normal poll closing time.

“Brockton spent $159,739.29 on the special election … and has been reimbursed $29,700, for three hours,” McGeary said.

The special elections – December primaries and the final election Jan. 19 – left municipalities rushing to find money to cover the expense.

“The city council was able to find money to put into the budget to cover it,” McGeary said. “There were other things that we wanted to spend the money on. If we get the money back, it would be put to good use.”

Shea said Quincy funded the special elections by dipping into their general fund, which funds the everyday operation of the city.

“We weren’t and aren’t out of money, but it was a federal election. Every city and town had to participate,” Shea said. “We are hoping to get it back. It’s all one pot of money – it’s taxpayers’ money.”

Future ownership of Ulin rink center of debate

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

March 22, 2010

BOSTON —It’s a battle for the ice in Milton as state lawmakers and local officials debate the possible transfer of the state-owned Max Ulin ice rink to the town

A bill by Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, would allow the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to transfer ownership of the rink to Milton, which would then be able to lease the facility from the state for $1 a year for 25 years.

The town could run the rink or sublease it to a private contractor familiar with managing rinks, which is Joyce’s preference, but that’s where he and local officials disagree.

Milton Selectmen Chairman John Shields said the town intends to set up a foundation to manage the rink.

“That’s the plan that is being formulated right now,” Shields said. “We thank (Joyce) for his input; in the end it’s not his decision.”

State Rep. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, feels the same way.

“I am strongly opposed to any privatization of the rink,” he said.

Timilty and Joyce have both sponsored bills to transfer the rink to Milton every legislative session since 2003.Joyce’s bill has gone the farthest; being approved by the Senate but not the House.

Bob Sweeney, vice president of Milton Youth Hockey, is worried that the legislation doesn’t protect groups that depend on the rink.

“I do not support language that says ‘youth groups,’” said Sweeney, who also runs the rink’s Learn to Skate program. “It would need to specifically say what groups, and maintain those groups’ currently allotted ice times.”

Sweeney also said he sees no problem with how the state now runs the facility.

“As soon as someone else operates, they will be thinking about themselves. I’m thinking about the kids,” he said.

There has been speculation in town that Curry College, whose hockey team has used the rink since the 1970s, may make a move, but spokeswoman Fran Jackson said the school is uncertain about making a bid.

There is plenty of interest.

“We think it’s a great idea,” said Rob McBride, president of FMC Ice Sports, one of the private contractors interested in running the rink. “We like to call it a partnership, not privatization.”

The rink building is valued at about $2.5 million, according to the 2010 property assessment, and the 60 acres of land on which the rink sits is valued at $1.99 million.

Joyce estimated that a transfer of ownership could save the state $12.5 million over 25 years, and earn Milton $2.5 million.

Quincy speed limit bill stuck in park

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

BOSTON —Legislation calling for slower speeds in residential areas is placed in study committee

The effort by Quincy officials to establish lower neighborhood speed limits never got the momentum it needed Tuesday to pass a legislative committee.

“I hope that we can have an opportunity to come to fruition before something tragic happens,” said Kevin Coughlin, Quincy City Council president, after the Legislature’s transportation committee rejected the city’s request. “It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to get a piece of legislation acted on, and I hope that it doesn’t have to come to that.”

The bill would have reduced the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph in residential areas of Quincy.

The legislation was proposed by Coughlin in May 2009, with the approval of Mayor Thomas Koch. It was passed on to Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, who introduced it to the Senate a month later.

On Tuesday, the transportation committee voted to move the bill to a study committee, which is often not a good sign for legislation.

But Morrissey said that the bill’s movement to a study committee might not be its death knell. He said the bill might be broadened to allow municipalities across the state to change speed zones.

“I look at it as a strong move in the right direction,” Morrissey said.

State Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, also said a statewide bill might be considered by the study committee.

“We have had a lot of motor vehicle accidents. I can completely understand why they wanted to take this action,” Mariano said.

Coughlin said the time has come for such a bill. In describing a stretch of Alban Avenue in the city’s Montclair neighborhood heading toward Woods Street, he said: “You will see a stop sign every block and the sole purpose of them is to get people to slow down.

“This is a consistently palpable issue not just for parents and their children, but for elderly people who want to walk safely through their neighborhood. I’m troubled that it wasn’t advanced.”

Coughlin likened the bill to the senior safety zone bill that was recently passed. That bill lowers the speed limits around senior citizen homes from 30 mph to 20 mph.

Quincy speed limit bill stuck in park

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

BOSTON —Legislation calling for slower speeds in residential areas is placed in study committee

The effort by Quincy officials to establish lower neighborhood speed limits never got the momentum it needed Tuesday to pass a legislative committee.

“I hope that we can have an opportunity to come to fruition before something tragic happens,” said Kevin Coughlin, Quincy City Council president, after the Legislature’s transportation committee rejected the city’s request. “It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to get a piece of legislation acted on, and I hope that it doesn’t have to come to that.”

The bill would have reduced the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph in residential areas of Quincy.

The legislation was proposed by Coughlin in May 2009, with the approval of Mayor Thomas Koch. It was passed on to Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, who introduced it to the Senate a month later.

On Tuesday, the transportation committee voted to move the bill to a study committee, which is often not a good sign for legislation.

But Morrissey said that the bill’s movement to a study committee might not be its death knell. He said the bill might be broadened to allow municipalities across the state to change speed zones.

“I look at it as a strong move in the right direction,” Morrissey said.

State Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, also said a statewide bill might be considered by the study committee.

“We have had a lot of motor vehicle accidents. I can completely understand why they wanted to take this action,” Mariano said.

Coughlin said the time has come for such a bill. In describing a stretch of Alban Avenue in the city’s Montclair neighborhood heading toward Woods Street, he said: “You will see a stop sign every block and the sole purpose of them is to get people to slow down.

“This is a consistently palpable issue not just for parents and their children, but for elderly people who want to walk safely through their neighborhood. I’m troubled that it wasn’t advanced.”

Coughlin likened the bill to the senior safety zone bill that was recently passed. That bill lowers the speed limits around senior citizen homes from 30 mph to 20 mph.

South Shore schools make the grade

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

Posted Mar 04, 2010 @ 12:42 PM

BOSTON —The South Shore passed the test.

The Massachusetts Department of Education today released a list of 35 schools around the state that performed poorly on the MCAS exams for four years and have not shown improvement over that time.

None of the schools were from the South Shore.

Gov. Deval Patrick passed a bill on Jan. 18 that would allow the government to intervene in underperforming schools.

While the regulations have not been finalized, the state education department released the list to give the schools early notification so they can begin planning for improvements before the next school year begins.

The 35 schools are in Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Springfield and Worcester. The list includes 20 elementary schools, eight middle schools, three K-8 and four high schools.

Bill would force paid sick leave for everyone

Friday, February 26th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

Posted Feb 26, 2010 @ 02:47 AM

BOSTON —In order to stay in business in the current economic climate, Richard Meier, owner of Meier & Associates, has had to make drastic cutbacks.

Now, Meier, whose company is based in Abington, has another worry – the Paid Sick Leave Act that’s being considered by the state Legislature.

“I like to give employees everything I can and keep them employed,” Meier said. “The Paid Sick Leave Act will make it that much more difficult.”

However, Mary Tillman, a Mattapan personal-care assistant, recalled a time when she was sick with pneumonia and still had to go to work. “By the time I got her bathed and dressed, I just had to lie on the floor and rest,” Tillman said of her patient.

The bill, which is being considered in the Legislature’s labor committee, would require that all employers offer paid sick leave to their employees. Employees would be able to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work. The committee’s members are being polled this week to determine the level of support for the bill.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen and Rep. Kay Khan introduced the bill for the first time in 2005. The legislation died both that year and in 2007. However, the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition, which is made up of 60 organizations, is optimistic that it will be passed this time around.

Dan Gilbarg, a spokesman for the Brockton-based Coalition for Social Justice, said that more than half of Massachusetts workers do not get paid sick leave. “Working people recognize that it’s a benefit that should be part of any civilized society,” he said.

However, some small-business owners oppose the bill.

Bill Vernon, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said most small businesses have sick leave benefits that are tailored to their company. State mandates could require companies to cut their own benefits.

“I think the danger is the idea that the Massachusetts Legislature can determine what the benefits are for an employee,” said Vernon, who lives in Mansfield, “The employees will find out the hard way that because of this legislation, employers can’t afford to provide these other benefits.” Vernon said that the bill was “anti-business,” and that would make it difficult for small businesses to grow.

Philip Johnston, former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party and the president of the Johnston Associates public affairs firm in Boston, said that as a small business owner he thought the bill was much needed.

“It’s an outrage that working people are not covered when they are sick,” said Johnston, who conceded that the bill would impose a small extra cost to employers.

However, Meier, the business owner from Abington, is worried that the legislation might force him to close.

“I’m at the point where I don’t want to retire, but right now my expenses are slightly more than I’m taking in, and I’m only going to do be able to do it for a little while longer,” Meier said. “But when you add this all together, it’s a killer.”

Emotional testimony at State House hearing on right-to-die bill

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

By Amanda Fakhreddine

Posted Feb 24, 2010 @ 07:44 AM

BOSTON —Eileen Lipkind of Stoughton remembers her husband, Al Lipkind, as a “lively guy” who “did not want to be bedridden and have people take care of all his needs.”

True to that philosophy, before Al Lipkin died of stomach cancer in October, he asked Rep. Louis Kafka to file a bill permitting physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts.

“I’m sure my husband is looking down and watching this very carefully,” Eileen Lipkind said in a phone interview Tuesday, after the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard strong opinions about her late husband’s controversial proposal.

Called the “death with dignity act,” the bill would require that a patient requesting physician-assisted suicide initially ask for approval in writing, go through psychological screening and then verbally request the medication.

Kafka, D-Stoughton, was not present at the hearing due to a sinus infection, but submitted a letter to the committee saying he supported the bill.

Denise Karuth of Florence did testify, wheeling herself to the table to oppose the bill.

“People ask me ‘why would a disability activist be opposed to this,’ ” said Karuth, “The movement is based on the fear of loss of control.”

Karuth, who struggled to maintain composure during her testimony, said she believes such a law would make people with disabilities feel like they should die if they couldn’t pay their health insurance or were suffering from abuses.

Joann Vizziello of Wrentham offered her own emotional testimony in favor of the bill.

Vizziello, told the story of Kathy Lawler, whom she used to take care of during her time as a personal care assistant.

Vizziello said Lawler suffered from a degenerative neuromuscular disease.

“The last thing she was able to say to me was ‘Help me die.’ I did nothing and I have lived with that guilt everyday.”

Marie Sturgis, of Scituate, and executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, opposes the proposed bill, saying it would make it possible for patients who are mentally competent with terminal illnesses to elect to end their lives through physician-assisted suicide.

“Once we cross the line and we enter into the realm of the assisted suicide, we all become vulnerable,” Sturgis said. “It begins the systematic devaluation of human life.”

Eileen Lipkind acknowledged that the option was not for everyone, but that a choice must be given to people dying of terminal illness.

“It’s an end-stage thing, when they say that there is nothing they can do. It gives them another option,” she said. “When people have cancer, they have no choices. This gives them an opportunity to make their own choice at the end.”

However, Sturgis disagreed.

“No society should ever approve to take their own lives, whether it is using a doctor to help them or doing it themselves,” said Sturgis. “This is not death with dignity – it’s a situation that brings on sadness and sorrow.”

The bill must be approved by the Judiciary Committee before it can go before the full House or Senate for debate and a vote.

Notify drivers by mail or spend less? Registry chooses latter

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Posted Feb 18, 2010 @ 05:59 AM
Last update Feb 18, 2010 @ 10:06 AM
QUINCY—Michael Henry tries to keep up with his car inspections and repairs. Commuting from Quincy to his job as a special-education teacher in Plymouth requires daily use of his car.

But ask Henry about his driver’s license and he can’t recall when it expires.

“I don’t think it’s expired,” he said Wednesday while waiting for the inbound train at Quincy Center, “but without looking at it, I’m not 100 percent sure.”

In December 2008, the Registry of Motor Vehicles stopped sending renewal reminders to drivers in the mail as a cost-saving measure. In October 2009, the Registry began offering an online notification service.

In between, there was a slight increase in the number of people ticketed for driving without a license, driving with an expired license, driving with the wrong class of driver’s license and violating a license restriction, according to Registry data.

Between Dec. 1, 2007, and Nov. 30, 2008, 27,828 people around the state were ticketed. Between Dec. 1, 2008, and Nov. 30, 2009, when reminders were not being sent, 29,289 people were ticketed, a 5 percent increase.

According to Registry data, renewal rates for driver’s licenses dipped in the first two months after the Registry stopped mailing renewal notices. In December 2008, about 71 percent of residents with licenses set to expire renewed them. In June of last year, the figure was 94 percent.

“The average renewal rate seems to be around 85 percent,” Registry spokeswoman Ann Dufresne said. “Most of the time we are at that or above it.”

Halting the mail reminder system enabled the Registry to save $800,000 a year, Dufresne said. The online reminder service costs nothing.

There are 4.6 million licensed drivers in Massachusetts, and 1.4 million new licenses are issued each year, Dufresne said.

About 50,000 people had signed up for the electronic reminder service as of Wednesday.

Dufresne said the Registry has tried to get the word out through social media, such as the agency’s Twitter account.

“We regularly tweet about it,” she said of the new reminder system. “Short of paying for ads, we have taken advantage of every free advertising opportunity.”

Still, some residents believe that mailing the renewal reminders is a public service that the Registry should be providing, regardless of budget constraints.

Henry, the Plymouth teacher from Quincy, said he was unaware of any changes at the Registry, and he joked that he would “probably be the last to know if (his) license was expired.”

“If I have to pay taxes and pass car inspections to drive my car, it’s their responsibility to let me know if it’s going to expire,” he said.

Kaylee McGrath of Hingham holds the opposite view.

“If people want to be reminded, they should sign up for the electronic reminders,” she said Wednesday while waiting for the bus at Quincy Center. “It’s not the Registry’s responsibility; it says when it expires on their license.”

Bill Goggin said he believes the state handled the cost-cutting change the wrong way.

“It’s the state’s job to remind people,” he said. “I think they should have done this new system over a year or two – letting people opt out of mailed reminders and sign up for electronic reminders. Like the digital TV switch; it lets people get used to the idea and make the change.”

Goggin said he has heard of the online reminder service, but just never remembered to sign up. He pulled out his iPhone and said, “Now it’s on my to-do list!”

To receive an electronic reminder, a driver must sign up at least 45 days before his or her license is to expire. One reminder will be issued, about 30 days before the expiration date.