Nearing the end of its first full-scale review of a proposed hospital merger, the Health Policy Commission on Wednesday approved two more full cost and market impact reviews of proposed hospital acquisitions in Winchester, Melrose and Medford.
The commission on Wednesday approved a preliminary report recommending a referral to Attorney General Martha Coakley and deeming Partners HealthCare System’s planned acquisition of South Shore Hospital and Harbor Medical Associates would increase costs without a substantial increase in health care system benefits and savings.
The commission then turned its attention to the suburbs north of Boston, approving a review of Partners’ proposed acquisition of Hallmark Health System and a review of Lahey Health System’s proposed acquisition of Winchester Hospital.
Hallmark operates Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital in Melrose. Commission staff noted Partners’ plan calls for “significant restructuring of services at North Shore Medical Center” and said it “raises significant competitive concerns, including the potential of the resulting system to negotiate higher prices through increased bargaining leverage.”
HPC staff said Lahey became “more concentrated” when it merged with Northeast Health System and said an additional acquisition would raise similar “competitive concerns.”
- A. Metzger/SHNS
With more than 4,000 Massachusetts families living in motels or emergency shelters, a few lawmakers suggested Wednesday it’s time to look at the state’s zoning laws to encourage construction of more affordable housing.
During a legislative oversight hearing to examine a rise in homelessness, Sen. James Eldridge, co-chair of the Housing Committee, said most people agree that housing people in motels and hotels is not a solution for homeless families, but said there is not enough affordable housing available to prevent the problem.
The Department of Housing and Community Development spends roughly $1.1 million a week on shelter, a figure that ticked up when the number of homeless families began rising over the summer despite increased spending by the Legislature and the Patrick administration to address the problem. The number hit an all-time high in October when 2,038 families were housed in emergency shelters. It has hovered around the same since, according to DHCD.
“The alternative is those families would be literally living on the streets,” Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, said during the hearing.
If the state wants to solve the homelessness crisis, there needs to be more federal and state funding for construction of affordable housing, Eldridge said during the hearing.
Many suburban communities place restrictions on affordable housing that contribute to the homelessness problem, with some prohibiting construction of multi-family units, Undersecretary of Housing Aaron Gornstein told lawmakers on the committee. “There is a tremendous need for more multi-family housing,” he said.
“We do need to build more housing, more affordable housing, as well as more market rate housing,” Gornstein added.
Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton), House co-chair of the committee, wanted to know if the rise in homelessness was a national problem, and what other states were doing to create affordable housing solutions. Gornstein said during a national conference this past summer housing officials from around the country talked about how they were all seeing a “significant increase” in the number of homeless.
In November 2012, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a goal of creating 10,000 multi-family units each year. As of October 2013, there have been 6,268 building permits pulled for multi-family homes, compared to 3,777 during the same time in 2012, according to DHCD.
Eldridge asked if 10,000 units were not enough to address the problem. Gornstein described the figure as “ambitious.”
Affordable housing is expensive to build, and the federal government has walked away from building housing projects during the Reagan administration, advocates said.
Currently 100,000 people are on a waiting list for federal Section 8 affordable housing assistance, according to Peter Gagliardi, executive director of HAP Housing, which provides housing assistance to people in Hampshire and Hampden counties in western Massachusetts.
Gagliardi said the state is facing a systemic problem that is much larger than the 4,000 people currently in shelters and motels. There are 200,000 people in the state living at the federal poverty level and at risk of losing their homes, he said.
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) asked Gornstein how much affordable units cost to build. He estimated total development costs somewhere around $300,000 per unit.
Rep. Matthew Beaton, a Republican from Shrewsbury, asked if the state took steps to significantly increase subsidized housing would there be unintended consequences on market rate housing. Gornstein said he did not think it would create an issue.
Gornstein said the state cannot solve the problem alone. He said one of the major challenges has been the recent increase in the number of families needing emergency shelter.
Nationwide, states are seeing a surge in homelessness driven by the recent recession and foreclosure crisis, according to Gornstein. Massachusetts is not alone in facing the problem that necessitates an aggressive approach on several fronts, he said, including affordable housing and job training.
“We need a good strong federal partner to be able to produce even more units of affordable housing,” he said.
David Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority and CHOICE INC. – a non-profit subsidiary of the Chelmsford authority - said many communities cannot afford land to build affordable housing. Expensive land means municipal officials need to think more creatively about ways to build, including regional projects or borrowing, he said.
He added communities cannot rely on private developers to build much-needed affordable housing.
About a year ago, Hedison said he pretended to be a homeless person looking for an affordable unit. He called building managers at a development that received tax credits and other state assistance to build a certain number of affordable units. The building managers told him they were not accepting any names for the wait list – it was full.
The following week, he visited the development and introduced himself as the executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority. He told them his mother needed an affordable unit. He was told they had three available, he told lawmakers.
Hedison said public housing officials are held accountable, and “anyone receiving dollars to create affordable units also needs to be held accountable.”
Other advocates said policymakers need to solve the underlying problems that create homelessness, like job training and education.
Chris Norris, executive director of Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, said the Patrick administration’s two-year-long HomeBASE program worked by keeping thousands of families in homes. However, there was not enough job training available to keep low-income people afloat.
“Families were housed for two years. We did that effectively. Not many of them saw their incomes increase,” Norris said.
For example, 15 families who lost their HomeBASE rental assistance dropped out of job training because they lost their homes and were forced to move, according to Norris.
There were approximately 5,400 families enrolled in the state's HomeBASE rental assistance program that started to roll off the program. The assistance is scheduled to end for all recipients by June 30, 2014. Since July, assistance already ended for approximately 3,000 families. DHCD is issuing 500 state rental assistance vouchers under the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) so some of those families have housing, Gornstein said.
Altia Taylor, 30, is a single mother who will soon be forced to leave her apartment in Dorchester because her HomeBASE assistance came to an end in November. After Jan. 31, she has no idea where she and her 15-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son will live.
“I don’t really know what my next steps are,” she told reporters after testifying before the committee.
Taylor said the HomeBASE program helped her for two years by giving her family stability after they lived in shelters. She is now waiting to hear from the Boston Housing Authority about her application for a permanent place to live.
Before the oversight hearing began, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker outlined his plan to move families living in motels into more permanent housing within his first year in office if elected.
His short-term plan calls for sending “multi-disciplinary assessment teams” to work with families in hotels and motels to develop a plan to stabilize their living situations. He also called for better communication between state agencies to assist families on the brink of homelessness, greater flexibility for regional public and private agencies, and “sensible” changes to state laws and regulations that he says push people into homelessness.
Months after her office was criticized for its handling of a domestic violence case that ended in murder, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan is pushing legislation that increases penalties on defendants with a history of violence and in cases where the victim is a household or family member.
Ryan testified before the Joint Committee on Public Safety Thursday in favor of a bill (H 3242) that broadens the aggravated assault and battery statute when the defendant has previously been convicted of certain crimes, including violating a restraining order. The bill, entitled “an act relative to protecting domestic violence victims from repeat offenders,” was filed by Rep. Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston.
The legislation also increases penalties for a defendant on an assault and battery charge who violates a judge’s order not to contact the victim as a condition of release on bail. Currently, a defendant is subject to increased penalties only when the assault and battery occurs in violation of a restraining order, according to Ryan.
“Right now the legislation does not provide for violation of the court order, a stay away order, to be an aggravating factor. This bill would remedy that,” she said. “This bill would say that if you have been ordered by the court to stay away from the victim and you, in fact, violate that order, commit an assault and battery, that will be an aggravating factor. It just increases the number of aggravating factors.”
The legislation gives prosecutors more tools to recommend higher sentences, and gives judges more discretion in sentencing, without creating mandatory minimum sentences, Ryan said.
Ryan is pushing for passage of four domestic violence bills, according to a spokeswoman. “It is part and parcel of a broader review of domestic violence legislation to increase penalties and discretion in sentencing that began when the DA took office,” spokeswoman MaryBeth Long said.
Ryan testified before lawmakers in July on a handful of bills, including one to create a new crime of strangulation and strangulation with serious bodily injury. In October, the Senate passed a domestic violence bill that included the strangulation measure. The bill is awaiting action in the House.
In August, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office was criticized for how it handled the case against Jared Remy, who was in court on an assault and battery charge two days before he allegedly killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, a case that has spurred a reexamination of laws intended to prevent domestic violence.
Remy was arrested for allegedly slamming his longtime girlfriend into a mirror, and the DA’s office was publicly criticized for not asking a judge to continue to hold him, based on a past history of domestic violence charges, or ordering him to stay away from Martel following his arraignment.
In the wake of Martel’s murder, House Speaker Robert DeLeo asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to partner with him in looking at the state’s restraining order laws.
Dykema, who filed the bill in January, said abusers often have a history of violence before the domestic violence incident that should raise a red flag.
The bill recognizes if the defendant has a past history of violent behavior, they would be eligible for increased penalties on the domestic violence charge, Dykema said.
Dykema told the News Service the issue hit close to home for her after a Westborough mother was murdered in a domestic violence incident several years ago. After the woman’s death, she worked with former Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone, and then Ryan when she took office, Dykema said.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, Dykema said.
“The most frustrating thing I hear from the public when you read these tragedies in the paper, there is a clear history of violence. People ask themselves, and I ask myself, why weren’t we able to recognize this…to discern the clear signs. This (bill) allows us to recognize those past patterns of behavior.”
In analyzing Boston’s most-needed software skills this year, Ben Hicks, a partner in the Software Technology Search division of recruitment firm WinterWyman, noted larger companies seem to have begun projects after holding off since the recession.…
With less than a week to go before a special election, Congressional candidates Sen. Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Republican Frank Addivinola are set for their first televised debate.
New England Cable News announced Thursday morning that Clark and Addivinola will debate at 3 p.m. Friday and the cable channel will air the debate at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Rebroadcasts are planned for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.
The special election to fill the seat formerly held by Sen. Edward Markey is Tuesday.
Independent James Aulenti of Wellesley and Justice Peace Security candidate James Hall of Arlington are also on the ballot.
- M. Norton/SHNS
Katherine Clark, the 50-year-old Democratic nominee for the Fifth Congressional District, is heavily favored in the Dec. 10 special election to succeed Edward J. Markey in the US House of Representatives.
Yet Clark, a state senator from Melrose, still faces one last test.
Her Republican opponent, Frank J. Addivinola Jr., a businessman and lawyer with six graduate degrees and conservative views on the Affordable Care Act, guns, gay marriage, and abortion, says he is going to win.
Katherine Marlea Clark
Born: 1963 New Haven, CT
Undergraduate education: St. Lawrence University
Profession: State senator
Self-described political views: Progressive Democrat
Personal life: Married with three school-age boys
Current residence: Melrose
Grocery store of choice: Market Basket
International adventure: Studied abroad in Nagoya, Japan, in 1983
Frank John Addivinola Jr.
Born: 1960 Malden, MA
Undergraduate education: Williams College
Profession: Doctoral student, teacher, lawyer, owner test prep business
Self-described political view: Smaller government, traditional Republican
Personal life: Married
Current residence: Boston
Grocery store of choice: Market Basket
International adventure: From 2002-2006, lived in Odessa, Ukraine, and ran a tourist-focused business there
- If visiting multiple stores, store your bags in the trunk of your car. If you must store them in the passenger compartment, make every effort to keep them out of sight.
- Be aware of loiterers near your vehicle. If you have any concerns, return to the store and ask to be escorted. Park your vehicle in a well-lit area that is populated by fellow shoppers.
- Consider using a credit card and not a debit card when shopping online. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if your credit card is used fraudulently. Also, only carry the amount of cash you expect to use when shopping in stores as thieves are on the look-out for people holding large amounts of money.
- Consumers are typically in a generous mood and often distracted during the holidays. Be leery of strangers approaching you asking for something that may ordinarily raise suspicions. A favorite holiday scam involves someone approaching you in a parking lot with a gas can looking to "borrow" some money for gas. Mall or department store security is better equipped to handle stranded motorists.
- Keep trees away from heat sources and be sure to water your tree daily.
- Never leave a lit tree unattended and use only fire retardant decorations.
- Use a “non-tip” style tree stand.
- Dispose of your tree properly, soon after the holidays, before the needles dry out.
- Never hang lights on a metallic tree.
- Check all lighting for frayed wires, broken plugs, and sockets and never overload outlets. Use no more than three strands of lights on a single extension cord.
- Never use candles on trees, near live or other flammable decorations, and be sure to never leave candles burning unattended.
- Consider buying new energy efficient LED lights that don't get as hot and always use appropriate weatherproof lights outdoors.
- Make sure grills and outdoor cookware are not used indoors.
BOSTON (AP) — The new year is a few weeks away but it’s not too early to think about 2014 hunting licenses.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says 2014 hunting, sporting, fishing, and trapping licenses will be available for purchase starting on Monday.
They can be purchased at all license vendor locations, MassWildlife District offices, the West Boylston Field Headquarters, and at MassFishHunt.org.
Anyone 15 or older needs a license to hunt or for freshwater fishing.
Freshwater fishing licenses for minors ages 15 to 17 are free and can be obtained online.
The department also reminds hunters that all deer harvested during shotgun season must be checked at a check station. Online checking is not available from Dec. 2 until Dec. 14.