Hearst Connecticut Media. June 4, 2021.
Editorial: Declaring racism a public health crisis a bold step for CT, but there’s more to do
Connecticut becomes a better state when it questions its identity. Children of color should see reflections of themselves in classrooms, in workplaces, in the ranks of public safety and in health care.
Lack of representation is one of many challenges in addressing equality, which will never improve through neglect. That’s why we applaud lawmakers showing boldness by declaring racism a public health crisis in Connecticut.
This bill can’t address all manifestations of racism, but health is a wise place to start. This initiative will, among other things, mandate data collection on race and ethnicity in health care; and require the public health commissioner to explore recruitment and retention programs for state health care workers who are people of color.
A commission will submit reports every six months documenting progress and recommendations. “Health” casts a wide net, and so the bill also establishes a commission on gun-violence prevention
The debate on the public health bill went into a broader conversation on race and inequity. Those who say they can’t see racism in anything, let alone health care (there were 33 votes against the bill), demonstrate precisely why it’s a vital conversation to have and why it needs to extend beyond this field.
In fact, this discussion is about 358 years overdue. Racism isn’t like COVID; it wasn’t born in the last couple years.
“Racism has been a public health crisis since the founding of this country,” Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, asserted.
It’s a valuable history lesson. There have been eras of profound, but hard-fought, progress in our nation. The 14th Amendment in 1868 granted equal protection to the Black population. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941, opened jobs to all Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 promised equal employment and integrated public facilities.
Each of those measures faced opposition, so perhaps it should not be surprising that Connecticut’s latest action was not universally embraced either.
Greenwich Republican state Rep. Kimberly Fiorello was a vocal opponent to what she perceives as Connecticut branding itself as racist.
“Because the people of Connecticut do not go around judging each other based on their skin,” Fiorello said. “I don’t know one person that does that. This is very cynical, and this is not what I stand for in our state.”
Those who can’t see racism, or who refuse to see it, would do well to take a slow drive across Connecticut. Don’t just stop at the tourist attractions, but note how wealth and poverty collide while navigating through suburbs such as New Canaan and cities including New Haven.
Stop for coffee in our cities and consider the faces of the people in concentrations of poverty.
If you still can’t recognize systemic racism, it’s even more visible in vile ways — through mysterious nooses on work sites that showed up in recent months.
Connecticut is always at the top of regions cited as having the widest wealth gap in America. This has consequences. If these were broken roads, they would be repaired. The infrastructure of opportunities for state residents needs an overhaul. Some steady habits need to be dismantled.
Racial discrimination is not yesterday’s news. By taking this welcome action to improve the health of its citizens, maybe Connecticut can finally help turn it into history.
Portland Press Herald. June 4, 2021.
Editorial: ‘Pooled’ testing in schools lowers COVID risk, anxiety
Augusta is the latest Maine district to join the program, which could help educators deal with the virus as they return to full in-person instruction.
With COVID-19 cases falling as vaccination rates rise, schools throughout Maine should have no trouble opening up to full in-person learning at the start of the next academic year. But that’s not to say that it will come without risk or uncertainty.
When students return in September, COVID-19 likely still will be a threat, however diminished. After months of living with the virus, many people remain wary about being indoors with others, particularly in areas where vaccination rates are low.
And, in a logistical challenge, some schools are struggling to find the space to fit everyone while still maintaining the proper distance.
Now, there’s a way for schools to mitigate risk, alleviate worries and fit everyone in the same school – but to do it, they’ll need the help of their community members.
Augusta this week became the latest school system to join Maine’s pooled testing program, in which groups of students, teachers and staff are regularly tested for COVID-19, their individual swabs “pooled” together into one batch to save on testing costs.
If the pooled sample tests positive, then everyone in the group is tested individually so that the proper quarantine procedures can be followed.
Pooled testing can, at low cost and with little disruption, catch an outbreak before it happens, either in the school or out in the community. It’s a particularly good method for catching asymptomatic cases, which are more likely to be found among the younger population.
One study, from the RAND Corp., found that weekly pooled testing lower in-school infections by an estimated 50%.
In Massachusetts, where about half of school districts are taking part in a pooled testing program, schools have found that the regular testing helps ease the minds of teachers, students and staff whose experience at a school may otherwise be marred by fear and anxiety. With all the tests showing very few cases in schools, they can be confident that the precautionary measures being taken are working.
Beyond helping to minimize the threat of COVID-19, the pooled testing program could also help many schools get back to regular order. Schools that join the program can ignore the state distancing restrictions now in place, allowing them to fit all their students in the school at once – something not possible in many schools when desks must be three feet apart.
Under those restrictions, Augusta officials said they would have to move elementary school students around to different buildings, and buy more desks and equipment. Now, they can save those costs – as long as enough people participate.
The state program only works if at least 30% of the people in a given school building agree to take part. For students, that means parents have to sign a permission slip.
The testing is anonymous, and it works. It’s paid for with federal COVID relief funds.
School districts, particularly those struggling with space issues, should step forward to participate.
Parents and students, too, should step up – and help their schools and communities take the necessary steps for a safe, productive and joyful school year.
Boston Globe. May 31, 2021.
Editorial: Governor Baker must answer for the tragedy at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home
He owes the public more details on the decisions that led to the deadly outbreak. But he must also work with the Legislature to fix a broken system.
Last spring, at least 76 Massachusetts veterans died not from the trauma or injuries of war, but in a place that should have been a refuge — the state-run Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. They were killed by a devastating COVID-19 outbreak that overtook the facility due to what turned out to be deadly decision-making under the leadership of Bennett Walsh, the former superintendent. Walsh and the former medical director, Dr. David Clinton, have been indicted on criminal neglect charges.
But how did an inept, unqualified person like Walsh get appointed to run the home? How did he keep the job? Why did it take a tragedy to end his tenure? How can Massachusetts make sure that never happens again?
These are questions Governor Charlie Baker should go before the Legislature and answer.
According to the Globe Spotlight Team, Baker helped put Walsh, a political hire with no health care experience, in charge of the facility. Over the course of Walsh’s tenure, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders knew about serious leadership failings on Walsh’s part, but allowed the situation to persist. After the tragedy, Baker and Sudders let others — including then-Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco Ureña — take the fall in the aftermath of a report produced by attorney Mark Pearlstein. The Pearlstein report, which Baker ordered up and presented as unvarnished truth, was marred by errors and omissions, according to the Spotlight Team.
Baker has called the deaths at Holyoke “a terrible tragedy” and said, “It’s on us.” But he has not adequately addressed the role he and Sudders played in events leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak. Asked to explain why he said the first time he met Walsh was on the day he swore him in, when in reality, he interviewed Walsh for 20 to 30 minutes on April 27, 2016, Baker said at a Friday news conference that he “forgot” about the interview.
Looking back at what happened is a matter of accountability. But it’s also essential for fixing what went wrong so it can’t happen again. As governor, it’s on Baker to lead the way on these fronts. Citing legislation he filed last year, but that went nowhere, is not enough. Real change requires a teamwork between the governor and lawmakers.
Echoing the Spotlight Team, a just-released report by a legislative oversight committee formed to investigate the COVID-19 outbreak found that “a crisis of leadership” attributed specifically to Walsh contributed substantially to the veteran deaths in Holyoke. The report also cited longstanding systemic problems, which created “the perfect storm” for the tragedy to unfold, and presented 14 recommendations. They include a call to make the home a certified Medicare and Medicaid facility; changing the hiring process for the superintendent so the governor has clear authority to hire and fire; making it a qualification that the superintendent be a licensed nursing home administrator; requiring a minimum of twice-a-year inspections by the state Department of Public Health; making the secretary of Veterans’ Services a cabinet-level position; and setting up one centralized state board of directors with responsibility for both the Holyoke home and the state’s other Soldiers’ Home, in Chelsea. Local boards would remain in place with a redefined role.
“We are willing to work with all our colleagues, and we are taking a close look at legislation that Governor Baker filed,” said state Representative Linda Campbell of Methuen.
Some lawmakers from the western part of the state have already expressed concerns about taking power away from the facility’s local board of trustees, underscoring the political challenge ahead. Indeed, the Walsh hiring, as outlined by the Spotlight Team, is a microcosm of how a local fiefdom works. When he applied for the job, Walsh was a lieutenant colonel retiring from active duty after 24 years. He had a master’s degree in international relations and strategic studies — but had zero health care training or experience. That deficiency was not disqualifying, in part because he is also the son of longtime Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh. His father, Daniel, was a former Springfield City Council president and retired director of veterans services for the city. His uncle, William Bennett, was Hampden County district attorney for two decades. Their combined network of connections helped make Bennett Walsh attractive to trustees. Baker made the final call on his hiring, the Spotlight Team reported.
After Holyoke, Baker should know better than anyone the downside of patronage, and the danger of ceding to local powerbrokers. He should give a full account of his missteps and work with the Legislature to make meaningful reforms, starting with basic requirements for the superintendent’s job and chain of command. What looks harmless on the surface can turn out to be deadly. It certainly was to those veterans who died at the Soldiers’ Home.
Boston Herald. June 1, 2021.
Editorial: Teacher makes case for statewide sex-ed guidelines
A totally irresponsible act or a calculated ploy?
That’s a question only the Dracut High School teacher placed on administrative leave for distributing “a highly inappropriate survey” in class can answer.
We can’t imagine this unnamed male teacher could have imagined any other response than the one that occurred.
If he didn’t, he’s as naïve as the students he supposedly believed required education on this third-rail subject.
Dracut Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone took action after learning that one of his educators distributed a survey titled the “Sexual Temperament Questionnaire,” which appeared in the 2015 best-selling book “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”
According to the website for publishing company Simon and Schuster, the book, a New York Times bestseller, “used groundbreaking science and research to prove that the most important factor in creating and sustaining a sex life filled with confidence and joy is not what the parts are or how they’re organized, but how you feel about them.”
A copy of the questionnaire includes two sections, titled “Inhibitors” and “Excitors,” which include graphic statements and questions.
After each statement, the questionnaire participant, on a 0-4 scale, is asked to pick a number that bests represents them; the higher the number, the closer the resemblance.
The numbers are then tabulated to determine the questionnaire participant’s sexual temperament and where they fit in statistically among others who have taken the questionnaire.
As expected, the questionnaire created a social-media stir, with differing opinions on the teacher’s decision.
The absence of a statewide policy on what sex education in public schools should include invites incidents like the one that’s now embroiled Dracut.
According to Megara Bell, director of Partners in Sex Education, Massachusetts is among a handful of states that doesn’t require sexual health education to be medically accurate, age appropriate or inclusive.
A bill that’s been passed twice by the Senate but stalled in the House could remedy that critical omission.
It would provide medically accurate, age appropriate sexual health education regardless of gender, race, disability status or sexual orientation.
Supporters say statewide standards for comprehensive sexual education would help protect students from contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Specifically, the bill’s language would require school districts to cover a wide range of topics in sexual health classes, including sexual development, benefits of abstinence or delaying sexual activity, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, forming healthy relationships, skills to recognize and prevent dating violence, and age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation.
The curriculum would be medically accurate, which the legislation defines as supported by peer-reviewed research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods and topics suitable for children based on developing cognitive, emotional and behavioral capacity typical for an age group.
Lawmakers have filed the Healthy Youth Act for the past 10 years; it received the Senate’s approval in 2017 and 2020.
The Dracut sex-questionnaire uproar strengthens the case for the necessity of the information this bill would impart.
Rutland Herald. May 29, 2021.
This week, hundreds of Vermonters came together to think about what is best for our state. While there were lawmakers present, this group of individuals were all experts in their respective fields. They were convened as part of the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Summit on the Future of Vermont.
Held remotely, the two day summit (Wednesday and Thursday) took a deep dive into 10 propositions that VCRD has developed in an attempt to “advance strategies, policies and investments to renew citizen engagement and advance justice, resilience, strong communities, and a sustainable economy that works for all.”
That is heady work. But when you convene a brain trust of Vermonters, things start to happen. As they should.
“This is a defining moment for Vermont,” the introduction of Vermont Proposition states. “The intersecting crises confronting Vermont today have revealed a need to reimagine our social compact, rededicate to shared values and ideals, and recommit to bold action.”
It goes on to state, “Doing so means embracing new Vermonters, building infrastructure for the future, strengthening civic society, transforming our economy, and driving new economic opportunity in an era disrupted by climate change, technology and globalization.”
The nonpartisan VCRD is known for bringing partners together to have hard conversations. They work with communities to help prioritize challenges, and set strategies toward resolving them. And the organization, headed up by Paul Costello and a legion of dedicated staff, strive to problem-solve at both a micro and macro level.
Setting forth to examine what we need to do as a state seems like an impossible and potentially contentious task. And it is.
Which is why everyone was summoned to one space to chat.
A family meeting of the entire state, if you will.
And nothing was left off the table.
In fact, the table was set long before this week. VCRD started the idea of propositions more than a year ago, conducting interviews across the state, gathering data and anecdotes. Over months they heard from thousands of Vermonters who each shared unique perspectives.
Then, with a draft of 10 propositions in hand, they sought to broaden the discussion, and share the ideas with all Vermonters. The Times Argus and Rutland Herald shared space on these pages over the last 10 weeks to further inform, educated and solicit input.
So this week was another benchmark in the ongoing process VCRD has laid out. What is gleaned from the summit will be added to the mix that will become a staggering compilation.
Toward what? Hopefully, a roadmap either around or over outdated policies that have been holding Vermont back from growth across sectors, or strategies to unknot attitudes that keep tripping up our leaders.
Here is a sampling of what has been learned. Vermonters are dedicated to working together for a future where Vermont:
— Attracts youth and answers our demographic challenges.
— Preserves, protects and renews participatory democracy.
— Does our part to answer climate change.
— Engages young people on the land and strengthens the land-based economy.
— Protects the natural resources, environment and beauty of the land and waters.
— Expands racial justice, equity, inclusion and the diversity of the state’s population.
— Reduces poverty and economic disparity and expands prosperity and opportunity.
— Strengthens the resilience of local communities.
In addition, we advance telecommunications; modernize regional governance and state long-term planning.
In effect, these propositions aim to chart a modern vision to improve the lives and opportunities for every Vermonter, be it families, children or individuals.
These are reassurances we need right now. The fact that we are being asked to think well beyond today, and to connect with colleagues, friends and neighbors toward a better tomorrow is a bold gesture toward answering the question: What do you want?
We commend everyone who participated in this week’s summit, and look forward to watching your commitment to our state manifest in glorious ways. And we thank VCRD, from the bottom of our hearts, for bringing the family together.