September 11, 2018
Eric Dickson, MD, MHCM, FACEP
President and CEO, UMass Memorial Health Care
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
We are writing to express our deep concerns about UMass Memorial Health Alliance’s response to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) dated August 31, 2018, regarding the planned closures of the pediatric unit and the cardiac and pulmonary rehab units at Leominster Hospital, as well as the urgent-care center at HealthAlliance’s Burbank campus in Fitchburg.
As elected officials representing Leominster, Fitchburg, and other communities that depend on these services, we agree with the Department of Public Health’s letter dated September 10, 2018, regarding your organization’s woefully inadequate engagement with the local community. UMass Memorial Health Alliance has failed to answer numerous serious questions about the impact of these closures on families in the area.
Our specific concerns:
Therefore, we the undersigned elected officials, request a meeting with you at the earliest possible time. We have a duty to ensure that the concerns of the families in our communities are being heard by the health care decision makers. As the chief executive of the UMass Medical, it is incumbent upon you to fully explain these ill-considered and reckless proposals.
Leominster City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir
Fitchburg City Council President Michael Kushmerek
State Representative Stephan Hay
State Representative Natalie Higgins
State Representative Harold Naughton
Mayor of Fitchburg Stephen DiNatale
CC: Deborah Weymouth, FACHE, President and CEO, UMass Memorial Health Alliance-Clinton Hospital Marylou Sudders, Secretary, Massachusetts Executive Office of Health & Human Services Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Public Health
From Sentinel & Enterprise
By Peter Jasinski
LEOMINSTER -- The crowd of about 20 former patients, current nurses and local leaders gathered on the sidewalk outside UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital's Leominster campus Wednesday evening once again spoke out against the pending closure of some of the hospital's services.
The protest covered a lot of the same arguments already made. However, there was one possible glimmer of hope for the hospital's biggest critics.
Closing Leominster's inpatient pediatric unit, pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation units, and Fitchburg's urgent care center will ultimately be decision made by the hospital, but Leominster City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir revealed Wednesday that she's been in communication with the UMass Memorial Health Care's administration for a meeting on the closures.
"We haven't really discussed who would be there, but he contacted me and I followed up," she said. "I'd like to get this done soon. Time is of the essence."
Chalifoux Zephir said she was contacted by James Leary, vice president of government and community relations for UMass Memorial Health Care. While she said she was uncertain as to when the meeting might happen, Chalifoux Zephir said she sees it as an opportunity to directly present the case for the services at risk of being shut down.
"What I want to do with all of these representatives here today is really make them understand the impact these closures will have," she said.
Beyond the revelation that local leaders may soon meet with the hospital's administration, Wednesday evening also served as another platform from which opponents could speak out against UMass Memorial Health Care's plans.
The hospital maintains that the closures have been necessitated by low daily patient volumes for each service, however several hospital employees warned that cutting them could be a danger to the community.
"It is unconscionable to force families to access health care outside of their community," said Erin Mangsen, a pediatric nurse at HealthAlliance. "The time the ride takes to Worcester or Gardner, even by ambulance, could be a matter of life and death to a precious child."
Elected leaders like Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale and state Reps. Hank Naughton, Stephan Hay and Natalie Higgins also spoke at the protest, criticizing UMass Memorial Health Care for cutting services needed by the community.
"HealthAlliance has reprehensibly turned their backs on the diverse socioeconomic communities that surround Fitchburg's Burbank campus," said Fitchburg City Council President Michael Kushmerek.
"In doing so, they are denying access to quality health care for the thousands of residents who live within the immediate vicinity of the facility and who depend on its proximity."Another issue raised by protesters was Leominster's inpatient pediatric unit recently being deemed an "essential service" by the state's Department of Public Health, yet still being a target for closure. Both representatives Hay and Higgins spoke about legislation they are co-sponsoring to give the state the authority to withhold funding from community hospitals that choose to cut essential services.
"What brought me out here today is my concern of who gets to determine what an essential service is," said Hay. "I feel I have the responsibility to stand up for the people of the district who say they don't want the hospital to make that determination."
The protest concluded with Chalifoux Zephir saying there could be similar demonstrations in the future.
"We don't have one scheduled but we are going to keep talking, we're going to keep working together, and I wouldn't be surprised if we have another," she said. "We'll see how the meetings go and see what traction we get."
From the Sentinel & Enterprise
By Nick Mallard
When it came time for legislators to vote on Bill H. 4784 recently, Sen. Dean Tran made a difficult decision.
The Republican from Fitchburg balanced his thoughts on the topic at hand -- raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 -- and voted no.
The House of Representatives passed the legislation, 146-3, while the Senate approved it, 32-3. Tran was one of three Republicans -- Don Humason of Westfield and Ryan Fattman of Webster were the others -- opposed to the age increase.
Reps. Marc Lombardo of Billerica, Colleen Garry of Dracut and James Lyons of Andover also voted against the bill.
For Tran, the choice was "pretty simple."
"Once one reaches the age of 18 in this country, they're considered an adult," he said Sunday. "You're able to vote, you can join the military and die for your country. You should be able to make the decision as to whether or not you want to use tobacco, as well."
Legislators who supported the bill point to the $9.5 billion the tobacco industry spent in 2016 on marketing its products to young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection.
Sue Chalifoux Zephir, a Leominster Democrat who will oppose Tran in this fall's election for the Middlesex and Worcester state Senate seat, said she "certainly would have supported the bill."
"I think raising the age to legally purchase tobacco products is a good idea," Chalifoux Zephir said.
"Nicotine is such an addictive substance, like alcohol or marijuana, and things of that nature should be dealt with consistently in the state."It costs billions of dollars in public health care for what amounts to preventable health issues. Not smoking or quitting goes a long way toward eliminating that."
Tran admits that health risks come with tobacco use, but argues that people 18 and older should educate themselves on the risks. He said that activities as adults come with consequences, but that young adults shouldn't be taken out of the picture.
"There can be grave consequences for things people vote for, but 18-year-olds are still allowed to vote," he said.
The senator said its a disturbing trend he sees with many bills: taking away the rights of young adults.
"They're saying that someone who is 20 years and 11 months isn't mature enough to make decisions for themselves," Tran said. "Many of the bills I see set precedents that take away rights and property from young people. It's government continuing its intrusion into lives and I find it disturbing."
Chalifoux Zephir contends that legislation like this simply does the job of government: protecting its constituents. She compared it to the state lowering the drinking age to 18 when she was in high school, only to have it raised to 21 after accidents increased.
"Raising the age might not stop everyone from buying tobacco once they're older, but it will keep seniors in high school from buying for their younger friends," she said. "It can delay that, especially with companies so aggressively marketing e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco to younger people. Marketing research from these companies has shown that the longer you go without trying tobacco products, the less likely you are to end up using them."
From Sentinel & Enterprise
Written By Amanda Burke
FITCHBURG -- The City Council on Thursday decried UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton for announcing the impending closure of its Burbank Campus Urgent Care center without gathering input from the community it serves.
UMass said in late May the center would close because of budgetary constraints, citing declining Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements as having contributed to the deficit.
The news didn't sit well with the Massachusetts Nursing Association, which alleged UMass pulled in $251 million in profits between 2013 and 2016.
UMass spokeswoman Kelli Rooney said in May that UMass Memorial Health Care is losing money, having posted a $14 million operating loss in second-quarter earnings through March 2018.
On Thursday night, the City Council voted unanimously to endorse a resolution condemning the closure of the urgent-care unit. At-Large Councilor Marcus DiNatale and Ward 1 Councilor Amy Green were absent.
"The City Council finds that such a closure ... would disproportionately impact the thousands of residents of the city of Fitchburg and have a negative impact on heath care accessibility in the region," the resolution stated, as read by City Council President Michael Kushmerek.
The Worcester-based heath care system also announced in late May it plans to close the pediatric intensive-care and cardiac-rehabilitation units in Leominster.
Kushmerek said the announcement of the impending closure of Fitchburg's urgent-care unit falls in line with "consistent" losses in the city's medical facilities.
Jobs in the sector were lost, too, he said.
The emergency room at the Burbank campus closed in the 1990s, and the psychiatric inpatient facility closed within the last decade, he said.
That dealt a blow to the city's economic base, he said. More importantly, he said, it made health care less accessible, particularly for those in poor neighborhoods who will be forced to travel greater distances to find adequate health care.
"We're a large city, we're a sizable city, and for us not to have a nonprofit urgent-care facility in Fitchburg would be, at times, disastrous," he said.
Kushmerek, who introduced the resolution, said a review of UMass finances show the nonprofit hospital chain is on a "profitable track," citing profits of $28 million "in recent years."
He said health-care organizations must be sustainable, and he does not wish for UMass to go bankrupt. But UMass should "weigh community impact to work with us to ensure ... they're still providing the necessary health-care delivery to our residents."
Speaking during public comment, Leominster At-Large City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir stated her opposition to UMass' decision to close the cardiac rehabilitation and intensive pediatric care units in Leominster.
Chalifoux Zephir said she has not seen "data or impact statements on displaced patients."
UMass has pointed to the for-profit CareWell Urgent Care Center in Fitchburg as a replacement for Burbank, she said, but receiving treatment there requires that patients present a credit card. Transportation to the center, located about two miles away from the Burbank campus, could be an issue for some.
Chalifoux Zephir called for increased transparency and partnership between UMass and the communities it serves.
"We just need to be more of a partner in determining what those services are going to look like," she said.
Kushmerek said CareWell is a for-profit entity affiliated with UMass. Receiving medical services there requires a credit card, a barrier for residents who are poor and for first-generation Americans, he said.
Ward 5 Councilor Marisa Fleming said based on personal experience she knows that CareWell does not treat infants under 6 months old.
At-Large Councilor Anthony Zarrella said that while he generally rejects government reach into private business, medical nonprofits receive "special tax considerations" and should serve the community. He said the community has not been adequately included in the closure process.
"We need a more transparent process and we need one that involves the community," said Zarrella.
At-Large Councilor Sam Squailia said at a recent legislative breakfast attended by Deborah Weymouth, the hospital system's president and chief executive, she was told that daily patient volume at Burbank urgent care fell from 38 in 2015 to 26 in 2018.
She echoed Chalifoux Zephir's concern over the lack of community involvement in the closure process, and noted how CareWell, unlike Burbank Urgent Care, does not have a doctor on site.
"There wasn't really a good outreach to the community, the transparency is noted, and the community should be a partner within the organization of HealthAlliance," she said.
Printed in the Sentinel & Enterprise
I believe elected officials have a responsibility to act on behalf of their constituents, and throughout my eight years as a city councilor I've worked hard to fulfill that responsibility. My recent vote on a requested zoning change reflected overwhelming opposition from the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.
My vote was not about the property owner, but about the 107 neighbors who voiced their concerns about the change.
Quite simply, I was never convinced that the concerns of those neighbors who would be most affected were ever fully addressed.
That's why I joined three other city councilors in voting no.
I certainly understand Mayor Dean Mazzarella's disappointment, but the zoning change fell short of the seven votes needed.
This project is not in the best interest of the city.
Susan Chalifoux Zephir City Councilor
At Large City of Leominster
From Sentinel and Enterprise
LEOMINSTER -- At-large City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir submitted nomination papers with the city clerk's office on Tuesday with enough signatures to qualify her for this fall's state Senate race against incumbent Dean Tran.
The race will serve as a rematch between the politicians, who squared off in December's special election.
"I'm grateful for the support of voters throughout North Central Massachusetts who support my candidacy," Chalifoux Zephir said in a statement released Tuesday. "I'm running for the Senate because the people of our region need good-paying jobs that provide a future for their families. They need better access to affordable healthcare. Our children need investments in their schools and the programs that prepare them for the future."
Chalifoux Zephir had won last year's Democratic primary by a healthy margin, but had been unable to gain enough momentum to surpass Tran, the Republican candidate, during the general election. She ultimately fell 607 votes behind, placing her second in a four-candidate race.
If elected to the Worcester and Middlesex Senate District, Chalifoux Zephir would not only represent Leominster, but also Fitchburg, Berlin, Bolton, Gardner, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Townsend, Sterling, Westminster, and precincts 1 and 2 of Clinton.
Throughout my special election campaign for the Massachusetts Senate last year, people spoke to me about their inability to make ends meet at the minimum wage, how the cost of a college education was keeping them from getting ahead, and about being forced to choose between the job they need and the sick child they love. People should not have to work two or three jobs to earn a living which leaves little time for family.
Solutions to these problems are before us in the coming year. Paid family and medical leave for all employees is slated to be on the November ballot. An increase in the minimum wage to $15/hour could be up to the voters as well. And we’ll vote on the Fair Share Amendment to provide much needed funding to invest in our transportation system and fund our public schools.
Today, I took out nomination papers from the Secretary of State’s office and will again be a candidate for the Massachusetts Senate. I want to help move North Central Massachusetts forward and make sure that all families can get ahead.
I hope you’ll join me in this important campaign - we have a lot of work to do to make Massachusetts work for everyone.
Printed in the Sentinel and Enterprise.
I'm writing to lend my support to Sue Chalifoux Zephir in her bid to become our next state Senator.
I have known Sue for many years as a neighbor, friend and city councilor. She has served our city well and I know she will do the same as state Senator.
Sue is a strong supporter of education and for increasing its funding in Boston. I believe that she will work hard to improve the Chapter 70 funding formula that will benefit all schools.
Her support of the Fair Share Constitutional Amendment will help increase funding for transportation which is taking a huge amount of money out of the budget process for all towns and cities. She also advocates for reducing the cost of higher education so that graduates are not faced with a large debt that will take years to pay off which this amendment also supports.
Her belief in adequate funding of special education that would ensure all schools are in compliance and all students receive the education that they deserve is commendable.
Please join me in supporting Sue Chalifoux Zephir on Dec. 5.
Ward 4 School Committee Representative
Printed in the Sentinel and Enterprise.
No matter which holidays you may celebrate, this time of year is about family. Family defines the holiday season for me. Family also defines how I approach important decisions, like who should represent us in the state Senate.
Sue Chalifoux Zephir is the only candidate who supports a $15 minimum wage, because no one who works full-time should struggle to feed their family. She also is the only candidate who will stand up for women's health care access and our right to make our own decisions about our families, no matter how much you make or what health insurance you have. Sue is also a champion of paid family and medical leave, so working women and men don't risk losing their jobs for caring for their loved ones.
One of the most important things we can do for our families is to make sure we elect leaders who will stand up for us. On Dec. 5, those of us in the Worcester and Middlesex district have the opportunity to vote for a state Senator will put working families first.
Printed in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.
Following the resignation in August of Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, representing the Worcester Middlesex District, the campaign cycle is winding down and voters will finally choose her replacement Tuesday, Dec. 5. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Berlin, Bolton, precincts 1 and 2 in Clinton, Lancaster and Sterling. The district also includes Fitchburg, Gardner, Leominster, Lunenburg, Townsend and Westminster.
With a primary held in November, the ballot is down to four choices: Democrat Susan Chalifoux Zephir, Republican Dean Tran, Green-Rainbow candidate Charlene DiCalogero and Unenrolled Claire Freda.
Susan Chalifoux Zephir
Chalifoux Zephir has been a former Ward 4 city councilor in Leominster, now serving as an at-large councilor. A former board member of the Leominster Education Foundation, she is executive director of Ginny’s Helping Hand, a nonprofit food pantry.
“I’m running for State Senate because we need to do more to address the big challenges facing the families of North Central Massachusetts. From investing in our roads and public schools, to tackling the high cost of prescription drugs and making quality health care more affordable, I’ve put forward practical, paid-for plans on the big issues we face,” she said. “I want to go to the State Senate to bring good 21st century jobs in clean energy and medical device manufacturing to our region, and to make sure that anyone seeking treatment for their addiction can get it.”
Chalifoux Zephir said she understands the needs of small towns.
“As the director of local food pantry Ginny’s Helping Hand, I’ve helped families from all of the towns in this district, and I understand the unique needs of our small towns, like the high cost of school transportation and the importance of protecting our open space,” she said. She has been endorsed by state representatives Harold Naughton and Kate Hogan, who represent Berlin, Bolton, Clinton and Lancaster in the district. “I have great working relationships with them, and in the State Senate I would have regularly scheduled meetings with them and with local officials to keep on top of each towns’ issues.”
Chalifoux Zephir outlined some of her issues going forward.
“As a city councilor, I’ve seen our kids suffer from the lack of state funding for our schools, and our roads and public transportation clearly need investment, too,” she said. “I enthusiastically support the Fair Share Amendment, which would tax the portion of a person’s annual income that is over $1 million and dedicate $2 billion each year to investments in education and transportation. That ironclad dedication would be in the text of our Constitution. As your State Senator, I would fight to pass the Fair Share Amendment, and work with local officials to make sure those funds reach our schools and our roads.”