A projected five percent increase in the budget for the regional emergency dispatch center based in Hingham hasn’t altered local opinions of the entity’s worth, with local managers still confident that operational gains have outweighed monetary losses.
Budgets have been a concern for most of the four communities that joined the South Shore Regional Emergency Communications Center between 2011 and 2013, with planned savings and cost efficiencies never really materializing.
Despite that trend continuing into the next fiscal year, town administrators said the center has provided tangible value.
"I think it's working fantastic," said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau. "We can point to at least two if not three incidents where [emergency medical dispatchers] saved someone’s life over the phone. We’re providing a much higher level of service than was provided by the tour towns individually."
Boudreau also said the dispatch center's metrics were above state averages.
He isn't alone in his support. In Hingham, town officials said the ability to handle multiple emergencies at the same time has been invaluable.
“The ability for dispatchers to handle a multitude of calls, emergencies at the same time, to provide emergency med dispatch abilities, to have the same equipment in four towns for larger scale issues - there are a tremendous amount of benefits,” said Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades in a phone interview.
Hingham has seen the biggest budgetary difference. In fiscal 2014, which began last July 1, Hingham’s allocation for the dispatch center was $675,000.
That compares with about $456,000 in fiscal 2011, the last year Hingham ran a separate dispatch center. (The fiscal 2011 number was about $50,000 lower than usual, due to one-year cutbacks.)
In Cohasset, the emergency dispatch operating budget totaled $239,353 in fiscal 2011 (the cost of benefits was not available) and was set to total about $250,000 in fiscal 2014 (which does include benefits).
In Norwell, operations and benefits costs will fall from $465,000 in fiscal 2011 to $325,000 in fiscal 2014. These numbers, however, do not reflect a related $200,000 increase in the police budget.
Hull is the only community that has seen substantial savings. Its dispatch center spent more than $486,000 for operations and benefits in fiscal 2011, and that number has dropped to $355,000 in fiscal 2014.
Each of these budgets is expected to increase approximately five percent in fiscal 2015, largely due to the settling of a union contract with the dispatchers and the need to buy additional software.
Hull Town Administrator Phillip Lemnios has said previously that cost was not the primary driver for the center, and he wasn't surprised by the recent increases.
“There are some technical issues that need to be addressed. Some of the items purchased are coming off warranty, we need to make [plans] for those things,” he said.
Cohasset Town Manager Christopher Senior was not available for comment.
Increases won’t only be limited to the first few years. Because software and technology is so heavily utilized, some aspects will have to be updated every three to five years.
“This is a unique operation, in that a lot of this stuff is in use constantly,” Lemnios said.
Alexiades agreed that budgets will likely be on the rise for some time. “The only way to save money on the center long term is to grow it, which is a benefit to us and the new member communities that join,” Alexiades said.
No discussions have begun on expanding the dispatch center, though those conversations may begin in the next year.
“The state has provided us with over $5 million to build out that [center] with the newest and best technology. I do think that other communities will look at that for the resource it is, if we can match the cost of their or beat the cost of their service they are expending,” Alexiades said.
Costs may go down for some present communities in the center through discussions over the budget allocation, though those discussions are still a ways off, Alexiades said.
Photos by Jessica Bartlett, Boston.com staff
US Senator Elizabeth Warren visited Marshfield on Jan. 21 to discuss potential changes to flood-insurance regulations that have sharply raised premiums for many South Shore residents.
Click here to see photos from Warren's visit.
A year after four South Shore towns combined their emergency dispatch operations, managers said emergency response is finally working as intended.
“Calls are up, complaints are down,” summarized Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades.
The progress is a far cry from where things started in August 2012, when Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, and Norwell finalized the multi-town initiative.
Though regionalization was intended to generate efficiencies, the dispatch center budget was higher than anticipated for three out of the four towns in fiscal year 2014 – the first full year the center would be in operation.
Difficult transitions with new software and new operating procedures intensified training difficulties and personnel issues, officials said. Managers also reported that dispatcher contract negotiations resulted in morale issues.
Negotiations are still ongoing, but Maureen Shirkus, executive director for the Center, said other growing pains have all but dissipated.
“Training issues have turned the corner,” Shirkus said in a phone interview. “…There was a learning curve we all had to go through with the equipment we were using. You had to learn the geography of every town. You can teach someone that but it takes time and exposure to it.”
While the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget has not lessened – Alexiades reported a 5 percent increase in the requested budget due to increased staffing requests and software upgrades, other measures point to success.
Staff said improvements have been seen in emergency medical dispatch – requiring medical instruction to be given on the phone while police or fire is being dispatched – due to increased staff. Response times have also improved due to centralized operations and new technology, staff said.
Complaints from staff are also down as internal problems have dwindled, Shirkus said.
Repetition has helped solve many of the problems, but internal changes have also created improvements. Shirkus said dispatchers are now assigned by department, rather than dispatching all calls by town.
“One day you’re a fire dispatcher, the next you’re a police dispatcher…that has helped,” Shirkus said. “If you’re doing Hingham and Norwell Fire Departments, they do a lot of mutual aid, you know who is where and what’s going on.”
Fire and Police chiefs have also made an effort to familiarize themselves and their crews with dispatchers, developing relationships with the new people on the other end of the phone line.
Turnover has also helped bring in new dispatchers who are more adaptable than legacy employees, and work load redistribution has dispatchers multi-tasking less.
“[There were] little things like that we needed to learn, because no one had done it before… We’ve come a long way since we first opened the door,” Shirkus said.
Emergency responders outside the dispatch center agree that change has been for the better.
“We’re making good progress and we’ve made a lot of significant changes that have made life a bit better,” said Hingham Deputy Fire Chief Robert Olsson. “It’s to be expected when you take four towns and combine into one thing … you take a bit of time for people to adjust.”
In addition to streamlined operations, new technology - $5 million total given to the regional group from the state – has improved record management, Olsson said.
“The data has always been captured but our ability to use that data is significantly improved,” he said.
Hingham Deputy Police Chief Glenn Olsson also pointed to the technology as merely one of the new system’s benefits. Unlike before, officers can read calls on their computers before they are spoken over the radio, and respond faster to emergencies, he said.
Monthly meetings between all four towns have also increased communication and collaboration, he said.
Improvements are especially noticeable within storms, Olsson said, when call volumes are high and dispatch is able to operate unimpeded.
“Sometimes people get impatient. You want to turn the switch and have everything work. In real life, things never go as smoothly as you want to,” he said. “As long as people stay positive and keep moving forward, you end up with a good product. And it’s starting to show.”
The following is a press release from the office of auditor Suzanne Bump:
State Auditor Suzanne Bump today referred an audit report of a Quincy dentist to the Massachusetts Attorney General for further investigation into possible Medicaid fraud. The audit uncovered signs of pervasive fraud by the MassHealth dental provider, Dr. Shahrzad Haghayegh-Askarian, including $154,019 in unallowable and sometimes medically excessive procedures.
“It is clear to me that Dr. Haghayegh systematically bilked the MassHealth dental program,” said Auditor Bump. “Her operation was an affront to the taxpayers and her clients. I hope the Attorney General can use this audit as a tool to uncover the extent of her wrongdoing and obtain justice for the Commonwealth.”
A review of MassHealth payment information and the files of just 40 of the 357 MassHealth members seen by Dr. Haghayegh between 2008 and 2011 found repeat patterns of the dentist obtaining payment for dental procedures contrary to MassHealth regulations.
· 1,429 unallowable detailed oral screenings, intended for patients receiving radiation therapy, chemotherapy or organ transplants. The dental patients for which Dr. Haghayegh submitted claims were not undergoing any of these procedures;
· 865 claims for dental services including X-rays, fillings, and denture repairs that were not documented in member files;
· 259 oral evaluations in excess of MassHealth limits;
· 176 claims for “dental enhancement fees,” payments meant for more general health centers to improve their dental services;
· 13 cases of Dr. Haghayegh circumventing MassHealth limits on denture replacements by instead replacing every tooth in the denture individually;
· 98 tooth restorations in excess of state limits.
In addition, the audit identified 95 claims for medically excessive fluoride treatments. In one specific example, Dr. Haghayegh billed 53 fluoride treatments in a 12-month period for a single child-aged member. According to guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, a dentist should provide no more than four fluoride treatments in a year.
During the four year audit period MassHealth paid Dr. Haghayegh $912,167 for more than 10,000 claims of service.
In addition to the report, Auditor Bump’s Bureau of Special Investigations has conducted an investigation into other potential fraudulent activity and has forwarded its findings to the Attorney General as well.
Unrelated to the audit, and acting on patient complaints about her dental treatments, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Dentistry suspended Dr. Haghayegh’s license to practice for one year, effective May 31, 2013. MassHealth has terminated her participation as a MassHealth provider based on its own review of Dr. Haghayegh’s billing.
“Given the egregious findings of our audit and investigative work I believe the Board of Registration should review its current suspension and consider a further disciplinary action,” said Auditor Bump.
Today’s report comes after Dr. Haghayegh denied state auditors access to her records for nearly a year. Dr. Haghayegh was the first MassHealth provider to challenge the State Auditor’s authority to obtain such records. Auditors were only able to begin the review after a May 2012 decision by Suffolk Superior Court required Dr. Haghayegh to allow access.
“We appreciate the Auditor’s partnership with MassHealth in working to hold this individual accountable,” said MassHealth Director Kristin Thorn. “MassHealth initiated an internal audit that identified program violations with this provider, we ordered her to repay inappropriately billed funds to the Commonwealth, and terminated her participation in MassHealth.”
As highlighted in earlier audits released by the Office of the State Auditor over the past four years, MassHealth’s dental claims processing system, which is administered through the subcontractor DentaQuest, has not contained adequate controls to identify and reject unallowable claims for certain dental services. Since 2010, the Office of the State Auditor has identified $7,678,115 in total questionable Medicaid dental claims. In response to audit work, MassHealth has implemented many changes to its claims system to better prevent similar unallowable billings in the future.
The Office of the State Auditor conducts technical and performance assessments of state government’s programs, departments, agencies, authorities, contracts, and vendors. With its reports, the OSA issues recommendations to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency.
Local author and Boston University Journalism chairman William McKeen posts this on Facebook:
Attention citizens of Boston's South Shore! I will be signing books during the Cohasset Holiday Stroll, Dec. 14, 4-7 pm at Twist, on Main Street in Cohasset Village. Come share a mug o' nog. To get a signed book, of course, you must buy it. Do';t forget that I have many children and they'd like to go back to three meals a day. Click on the post for more details. God bless us everyone!
Lawmakers waded back into a battle waged for years between environmentalists who want to shorten the permitting process for smaller wind energy projects and residents who say their health suffers from living near a turbine.
During a legislative hearing Tuesday, residents who live near turbines accused environmental activists of persistently pushing legislation to make it easier to permit land-based wind energy projects without acknowledging health effects. Environmentalists argued benefits of the renewable energy outweigh some of the negative impacts.
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told lawmakers on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee they need to have the political will to pass legislation streamlining the permitting process.
“Wind energy is the future,” he said. “And to think that progress in this area can come without any harm is a misconception.”
Bachrach argued that when highways were built some people were hurt when they lost property, but there was “overall common good.”
“Somehow there is this notion in Massachusetts that we cannot build wind energy unless no one is hurt,” he said.
Two bills before the committee (H 2980 and S 1591), filed by Rep. Frank Smizik and Sen. Barry Finegold, would institute comprehensive siting reform for land-based wind projects.
Similar legislation made it all the way through the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to finish work on the bill. Senators in favor of it attempted to get it passed during informal sessions, but it was repeatedly blocked by opponents during that summer.
Supporters of that bill, including the Patrick administration, said it would have helped expedite wind-based turbine projects while preserving the ability of municipalities to reject unwanted projects. No one from the Patrick administration testified on the bills Tuesday.
During the hearing, some opponents argued Massachusetts is too densely populated to allow wind turbines to be built anywhere on land.
Residents from Falmouth who live near a wind facility urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.
Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who lives one quarter-mile away from a turbine, described his suffering. Along with headaches, Anderson said he has trouble concentrating and memory loss. He said he has to leave his house when the winds are high.
“My life has been torn upside down. All I do now is fight wind turbines,” he said.
Anderson refuted claims by some environmentalists who say the wind turbines do not cause health problems.
“They just don’t have a clue about what is going on,” Anderson said. “This is about massive wind generators that are just too close.”
Anderson argued that Massachusetts is too densely populated for turbines to be sited anywhere in the state. “They don’t belong anywhere in Massachusetts,” he said.
He invited lawmakers to sit on his front porch and “see what these turbines can do.”
“Maybe one of you will get a headache, start feeling the pressure in your ears, because it’s real,” Anderson said.
In January 2012, an independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded that wind turbines present little more than an "annoyance" to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts. Falmouth and western Massachusetts residents argued at the time that the report was biased and based on "cherry-picked" information that ignored the real-world impact of turbines.
Smizik, a Democrat from Brookline who chairs the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said current law favors large fossil fuel plants because only energy plants larger than 100 megawatts can go to the Energy Facilities Siting Board for a consolidated permit. Land-based facilities tend to be much smaller, so they do not have the “luxury” of the fast-tracked permitting option available to fossil fuel plants.
Smizik said the legislation he filed would streamline the process for on-shore wind energy only if the project met strict public safety and environmental standards.
“This bill does not give special interest to the wind energy industry, it just levels the playing field,” Smizik said.
The legislation establishes clear standards and timely and predictable permitting procedures, Smizik said, reducing the time and cost for wind projects.
Smizik said the legislation does not take away local control, something opponents contend it does. There is opportunity for public input, he said.
Rep. Timothy Madden, a Democrat from Nantucket, opposed the bill, saying it takes away a “great deal” of local control.
“My opposition on this bill has not changed over the last several years,” Madden said.
Madden filed a bill (H 2957) that would allow coastal communities to create exclusion zones for wind turbine development.
Smizik said one area of opportunity for wind energy that is being missed is in agricultural land. Farmers struggling to maintain viable farmlands could develop wind farms on their land as a way to power farms and increase profits by selling the energy, he said.
Michael Parry, a sheep farmer who owns 220 acres in Shelburne, said he would never put a wind facility on his property after researching the effects of turbines.
“I would never subject our neighbors to that. I wouldn’t subject my family to that, and I wouldn’t subject my livestock to that,” he said.
Parry mentioned a wind facility located near a dairy farm in Glenmore, Wisconsin where the farmer reported reduced milk production from his cows after the turbines went up. Parry said he favors renewable energy, but feels environmentalists are pushing projects before the impacts are understood.
By Shujie Leng BU Washington News Service WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, Tuesday afternoon asked the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay a rate increase arising from recently enacted flood insurance legislation…
If sea level rise projections become reality and high tides a century from now resemble what today are major floods, the Aquarium Blue Line Station would likely be underwater while across the harbor the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital will be better prepared to weather frequent incursions of harbor water, according to Boston Harbor Association Executive Director Julie Wormser.
“By mid-century, every year the T’s going to have to deal with a foot and a half of seawater. By the end of the century it’s dealing more with five feet of seawater,” said Wormser, who said the Aquarium Station would need to be moved.
She said, “People have mentioned doing giant sea dams across our Boston Harbor Islands. I don’t know what that would do for all the money we spent on the cleanup, for one, but it also would sap all of our money to do anything else. What do you do with the water? You can’t keep back the tide?”
Officials from San Francisco, Louisiana and the Netherlands traveled to the JFK Library Tuesday, carrying with them schematics and animations that depicted flooding scenarios that in the case of the Netherlands nearly swallowed the whole country, and discussed ways to reroute floodwaters and build large, protective sandbars.
In the Netherlands, parkland has been built to serve as temporary retaining ponds, or polders, during major floods; rivers have been reconfigured; and a city provided beach parking and reinforced the sand dunes at the same time by constructing an underground garage by the shore, said Royal Dutch Embassy Senior Economist Dale Morris.
“They get it. They get it. We don’t. It’s as simple as that,” said William Golden, executive director of the new National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure, who said the impending sea level rise will be “the biggest business opportunity for engineering firms in this country.” He said, “The Dutch are coming over here and they’re eating your lunch.”
Boston does not face the altitudinal problems borne by much of the Netherlands and New Orleans, where substantial areas lie below sea level, however the sea level is projected to rise faster in Massachusetts Bay than the North Sea, where storms are less violent as well.
Much of Massachusetts has a hilly landscape and solid bedrock beneath, unlike southeastern Florida, which has little high ground to seek safety and sits on porous limestone, as Broward County official Jennifer Jurado described, saying water can rush up the Everglades flooding homes inland on the peninsula state.
The shape and makeup of Boston Harbor provides better protection from a massive storm surge than New York City, which was inundated with water when Super Storm Sandy’s landfall coincided with high tide a little more than a year ago.
“We located our state’s capital in a very, very good harbor. It doesn’t mean that the rest of Massachusetts doesn’t get hammered. So during Sandy while Boston was getting 2-foot waves, Scituate and Gloucester were getting 25-foot waves,” said Wormser.
“No one likes to hear it but the fact of the matter is we’re not going to be able to armor everywhere; we’re not going to be able to drain everywhere. There are going to need to be very real, hard choices about what areas we’re going to need to protect and what areas we are in fact going to have to walk away from,” said Scituate Selectman Richard Murray, who is a Boston University professor of oceanography. He said, “We’re not talking about next Thursday at 3:15 everybody’s going to get out.”
Murray said federal incentives for restrictive zoning should be used and areas should seek “managed retreat” from the sea, as was the case in the period since the Blizzard of 1978 when the roughly 50 homes on Peggotty Beach before the storm dwindled to 15 today, he said.
The talk took place at the presidential library, which sits on the harbor’s edge, next to UMass Boston, where a new academic building is also under construction. The talk also coincided with news of the devastation wrought late last week by Super Typhoon Haiyan’s path across the Philippines, which a few speakers referenced.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Senior Advisor Josh Sawislak, who was a member of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, said, “We don’t know what the next storm will be like.”
Sawislak, who worked on the Big Dig project, said the task force recommended regional collaboration, fiscal sustainability, and efficacy when undertaking projects to handle rising seas and storms.
“Starting with recovery is the loser’s game,” Sawislak said.
The Spaulding Center has prepared for its perch near the harbor by putting electrical systems on the roof, keeping its vital program areas on the upper floors, while conference rooms occupy the bottom levels and the landscaping outside is well designed to handle flooding, Wormser said.
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Advisory Board Executive Director Joe Favoloro said the Deer Island Waste Treatment Plant had been protected and built at enough elevation to keep it out of the surf, and said, “Most of the MWRA projects are not at a severe risk.”
As revelers get ready to gather in Boston to celebrate the Boston's World Series win, South Shore MBTA routes are preparing to amp up service.
Service on the Red, Orange, Blue and Green lines will operate with rush hour levels of service beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday.
Previously scheduled diversions between Kendall/MIT and Park Street Stations on the Red line have been canceled for Nov. 2 and 3. The commuter boat out of Hingham will also be running at maximum capacity.
“Please be advised that each boat trip has a maximum capacity of 149 passengers. Parade-goers may start purchasing the $16 round trip tickets this afternoon at the Hingham Shipyard ticket window,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pestaturo on Friday.
Customers are also encouraged to buy round trip or return tickets prior to their inbound trips to avoid long lines on their way home.
Commuter line trains will not be running out of Greenbush, Kingston, or Stoughton. However, patrons can catch commuter trains out of Worcester, Franklin/Forge Park, Providence, Middleboro/Lakeville, and a number of North Shore trains.
“Commuter Rail's Saturday schedule has been modified to provide special, pre-parade service with extra inbound trains in the morning,” MBTA officials said on their website. “In addition, capacity is being significantly increased along each line. Please expect variations in scheduled times due to increased ridership and allow extra time for your trip. The MBTA strongly urges parade-goers to take advantage of the earliest trains to avoid very heavy volume on subsequent trains.”
Each of those lines will return to their regular Saturday schedules at approximately 4 p.m.
Commuter Rail tickets can be purchase electronically via the mTicket mobile ticketing app at www.mbta.com/mticket beginning Friday, November 1 at 1:00 p.m.
For more information or train and boat schedules, click here.
The Red Sox parade will start at 10 a.m. at Fenway Park.
For more information on the parade, click here.
Though things are under control, concerned residents have called in record numbers.
On Tuesday, a wind change blew smoke across Route 93, causing visibility problems. Later that day, smoke from the fire blew into Quincy, causing some residents to think there was a fire in their neighborhoods.
“We were getting calls everywhere, trucks would drive around and not find anything because it was smoke from Blue Hills. But we can’t ignore it,” Fenby said.
City Councilor Brian Palmucci also said people were concerned about safety. Dozens have called, emailed, or sent messages on Facebook to the councilor wanting to know what was happening.
“It’s clear here is something going on,” Palmucci said. “There is a strong smoke smell in West Quincy right now and there has been since Tuesday night…I smelled it about 8:30 on Tuesday and I thought the house was on fire.”
Palmucci said he issued an automated call on Wednesday to inform approximately 9,000 households of the fire and to let them know that there was no danger.
“My fear is there are seniors in the home by themselves and they don’t know what’s going on and may not have access to a computer…and are nervous about the smell,” Palmucci said. “It’s more letting the public know that there is no public safety threat.”