Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Kaplan’

Care for disabled criticized

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Matthew Kaplan

BOSTON–Citing a history of discrimination, advocates met at a forum Wednesday to address problems those with disabilities face in receiving adequate medical care.

“Our current health care system creates a hidden class, or hidden classes, of people,” said Dennis Heaphy, a health analyst with the Disability Policy Consortium.

Often, he said, doctor and nurses provide “uninformed and prejudiced services that treat people as a disability,” rather than as a person with a disability.

Heaphy joined with four other panelists at “Building Bridges to a Universally Designed Health Care System,” a forum sponsored by advocacy group Health Care for All at the Boston Foundation, 75 Arlington St.

“When we looked at disabilities, we know that we haven’t achieved the (health care) outcomes we wanted,” said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Health Care for All’s executive director.

Among the speakers at the forum attended by some 50 disability advocates, Amanda Nichols, health care policy director for the Waltham-based disability advocacy group the Arc of Massachusetts, said people with disabilities have been historically viewed as “deficient.”

“There’s a belief that people with disabilities are sick,” she said. She and some advocates stated that the physical and intellectual disabilities people have are a part of who they are, rather than an illness.

Bill Henning, executive director of the Boston Center for Independent Living, blamed a lack of knowledge and sensitivity from health care providers when dealing with disability issues.

For example, he said, physically disabled women are less likely to get pap smears or mammograms than their peers.

According to a 2008 report from the Arc of Massachusetts that was distributed at the forum, it was found that health care professionals “lack knowledge about the specific health care needs of patients who do not reflect the ‘typical’ patient.”

To counter these problems, Heaphy said doctors and other health care providers need to receive additional disability-specific training to have the sensitivity and know-how to properly treat disabled people.

Some health providers disagreed with some of the points made at the forum. Rachel Kagno, a spokeswoman for Newton-Wellesley Hospital, said in an e-mail that “it is our job to ensure that each patient feels they are being cared for appropriately.” She said the hospital factors a person’s background into care.

Stephen Shestakofsky, state legislation director of the Waltham-based Massachusetts Medical Society who attended the event, agreed that health care providers should have more education and sensitivity, but rejected the idea discussed at the forum that the Legislature should mandate such training.

But Shestakofsky said the society agreed with Health Care for All’s support of efforts to provide greater state funding to health care providers who give care to disabled people.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts also supports such state payments, said Tara Murray, company public relations director. She said the initiative matches the health insurance provider’s belief in paying for quality treatment.

But the calls for additional spending come at a time of severe state budget cuts. In the face of budget shortfalls, Gov. Deval Patrick slashed $8.3 million from the Department of Public Health, $10.3 million from the Department of Mental Health and $7.78 million from the Department of Developmental Services.

Georgia Maheras with Health Care for All said elderly people with disabilities incur monthly medical costs six to nine times higher than does the average person.

Despite the extra health care costs incurred by disabled people, Slemmer said “the (health care) system has to reflect the needs of everyone.”

Wage hike sought for restaurant servers

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Matthew Kaplan

BOSTON–About five years ago, right after she had her third child, Lowell resident Cindi Hevner took a new job that would allow her to earn money and still have time for her children – she became a server at a Ninety Nine Restaurant.

Within the past year and a half, Hevner said her job leaves her with less and less money every night. A sinking economy means fewer customers. To lure people, the restaurant offered a slew of coupons and deals, which lowered check prices and tips.

On good nights, Hevner said she can still make $135 in tips, but slow nights leave her with $40. Combine that with the tip out she has to pay to the dishwasher and the taxes she pays on her tips, Hevner said she has increasingly relied on her wage, a state minimum $2.63 an hour.

But she has little hope restaurants will willingly raise server wages.

“They’re going to do the minimum of what they have to do,” Hevner said.

With many waiters and waitresses facing a more modest payday, Hevner sought the help of state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, asking him to file a bill on her behalf that would increase the minimum wage for service employees by $1 an hour.

At least one Waltham restaurateur is sympathetic to Hevner’s idea.

Carlos Reverendo, co-owner or Solea Restaurant on Moody Street, says that for about half of his 48 employees, “tips are the basis of the majority of what they earn.”

Reverendo said he considers a minimum wage increase inevitable and said that such an increase might better motivate employees and decrease turnover.

“If you want to get better people, you have to motivate them,” Reverendo said.

The bill would immediately increase the server minimum wage to $3.63 an hour and then would increase the wage by the same percent as any subsequent raise in minimum wage. The national minimum wage benchmark for a tipped employee is $2.12 an hour.

Massachusetts last raised the minimum wage for tipped employees about 20 years ago, Hevner said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food and drinking establishments employ about 227,000 people in Massachusetts.

Nationwide, the average wait staff makes about $7.14 an hour and the average bartender makes about $7.86 an hour.

Hevner testified before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development yesterday, presenting a petition in favor of her bill signed by 75 people.

She said she is cautious about the bill’s prospects but argues that a minimum wage increase is “20 years coming.”

“I got to think about myself and my family,” Hevner said.

Consolidation efforts slow to take root in Massachusetts

Friday, November 27th, 2009

By Matthew Kaplan

BOSTON – The idea of Hamilton and Wenham combining services was nothing new. After all, the two towns have shared a school district, an emergency dispatch center, library and facilities manager since the 1960s.

But in 2004, town officials had another idea: Why not consolidate the towns? It might save more money and make services more efficient.

The answer, according to a state Department of Revenue study done at the towns’ request, was that the towns could save around $750,000 a year out of combined budgets of $42.2 million.

Despite the potential savings, the towns didn’t merge. Residents on both sides of the town border worried they would lose out to their neighbors. Others did not want to see six of the combined 25 police officers laid off, as was recommended by the report.

There was also a pride of place.

“Some people just don’t like the idea (that) the places they lived would disappear in name,” said Hamilton Town Administrator Candace Wheeler. “It wasn’t one of those things that you would call a slam dunk.”

The experience hasn’t stopped other towns. Faced with recession, loss of tax revenue and cuts to local aid, towns and cities from Cape Cod to the Pioneer Valley are considering a consolidation to cut costs:

Melrose and Wakefield joined their health departments in July, sharing inspectors and public health nurses. The move saved Melrose $35,000 out of its $70.9 million operating budget, said Ruth Clay, health director for the two towns.

Trash consolidation efforts in Quincy cut about $160,000 from the city’s $226.5 million budget.

Franklin County towns looked into consolidating their eight school districts, which could save up to $2.8 million from the combined school budgets of $133.4 million.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray recognized the trend at a conference on regionalization in Worcester in September.

“Now, given the budget realities facing communities across the commonwealth, we must move even more swiftly on a range of fronts, including joining forces to provide services on a regional basis that historically have been provided by each community individually,” he said.

Massachusetts has about 333,000 municipal employees statewide, with 516 workers for every 10,000 people. That municipal employee-to-citizen ratio is the 11th lowest ratio nationwide, according to the Census Bureau.

But a low ratio does not decrease budgets. Last year, according to the Department of Revenue, the average municipality had $29.9 million of debt. Massachusetts has the third largest amount of combined state and municipal debt, behind Alaska and New York, according to a Census Bureau report issued in 2005.

The growing debt has put additional pressures on municipal budgets already strained by cuts in local aid.

As a result, consolidation has become especially popular with small towns, which often lack the money for all of their part-time employees, said Phoebe Walker of the Franklin Council of Regional Governments in Greenfield.

For example, Hubbardston recently consolidated its emergency dispatch services with Oakham and Rutland. As a result, the center eliminated three full-time positions, saving the towns between $80,000 and $100,000 a year.

“In a small town budget, I think that number is significant,” said Thomas Ruchala, Rutland’s fire chief.

Ruchala said there are other advantages. Combining dispatch services gives the towns more flexibility to purchase technological upgrades, including a system that allows the center to track the location of cell phone calls.

Earlier this month, Provincetown and Truro discussed possibly combining their jails and dispatch centers as a way to cut costs.

“Frankly, Provincetown needs a new police station,” Town Manager Sharon Lynn said. “We’re down some officers.”

Massachusetts has 264 emergency call centers, about one for every 24,000 people. Maryland has 24 centers – one for every 233,000 people. The difference comes from the fact that most states conduct business at a regional or county level, Massachusetts has a strong parochial tradition, where towns and cities, founded two to three centuries ago, are the epicenters of services.

“People have really gotten used to providing these services at the local level,” Walker said.

Another problem is the perception of winners and losers in consolidation.

When Quincy, Braintree and Weymouth collaborated on trash collection, Quincy saved about $160,000 out of its $226.5 million budget, said John Sullivan, Qunicy’s waste and recycling manager.

Steve Poftak, research director for the Pioneer Institute, a public policy think tank, said Braintree achieved similar savings, which represented a more significant figure out of its $83 million budget.

Municipalities are “so desperate for savings in some of these cases,” Poftak said. “Regionalization isn’t necessarily a cure-all, but it’s important.”

And Sullivan notes that the three-town deal purposefully stopped short of consolidating other municipal services.

“Each town wants to keep their autonomy,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s very important.”

As such, smaller scale consolidation is more politically feasible compared to more contentious wholesale consolidations of police or fire departments.

When Hamilton and Wenham discussed combining police forces, many community members reacted negatively, not wanting to see emergency staff cuts. Arguments for consolidation also were weakened by the fact that savings sometimes take 10 years to materialize, Wheeler said. For example, if Hamilton and Wenham combined police services, the towns would have to initially lose money, paying to repaint squad cars, consolidate information and retrain officers.

“The biggest driver right now is a significant savings over the long term,” Wheeler said.

For now, few towns have taken the steps to formulate a joint services agreement, Poftak said.

The Pioneer Institute posts regionalization agreements on its Web site. So far, the site has 13 agreements written over the past 13 years. The state has 351 cities and towns.

Small-scale, long-term cuts mean towns and cities often do not see significant savings from consolidation, at a time when municipalities need significant short-term budget help.

Wheeler said Hamilton officials would have been more excited about the Department of Revenue’s findings if the report suggested $1 million or more, instead of about $750,000 in combined immediate savings. Combining the town budgets of Hamilton and Wenham totals about $42.2 million.

“In our case, it was not a salvation,” she said.

(link to original article)

Michael Capuano on the campaign trail

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

By Matthew Kaplan