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.