Delegation Issues Statement Supporting Nurses at Nashoba Valley Medical Center

AYER, Mass—Legislators representing patients and families served by the Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC), as well as the nurses who work there, are issuing this joint statement expressing our opposition Steward Healthcare’s recent threat to close our community hospital unless the nurses agree to accept their “final” offer in negotiations for a new union contract. 

We stand with the nurses and agree that this threat, which was made without providing the required information to justify such a closure, is a violation of federal labor law and an unseemly attempt to force the nurses into accepting an agreement that the nurses believe will negatively impact the quality and safety of care at this facility. 


The nurses have provided data that shows that inadequate pay and staffing conditions at the facility have affected NVMC’s ability to recruit and retain the staff needed to deliver the care our community expects and deserves. They have also shown that, due to staffing shortages, the hospital is routinely transferring patients out and turning patients away.

We call upon Steward to revoke their threat close to our community hospital, and return to the negotiating table to bargain in good faith for an agreement that respects our nurses and guarantees the high quality care our communities deserve.

Signed,

Jennifer E. Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District
James B. Eldridge
State Senator
Middlesex & Worcester District
Sheila C. Harrington
State Representative
1st Middlesex District
Edward J. Kennedy (D-Lowell)
State Senator
First Middlesex District

Rep. Benson Helps Bring Child Wellness Initiative to the House Floor

The legislation passed by the House expands access to and supports health services for children

(BOSTON) – Yesterday, Representative Jennifer Benson (D – Lunenburg), with her colleagues in the House of Representatives, unanimously voted to pass legislation supporting the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth. This bill is part of a multi-tiered initiative to address the specific needs of children and adolescents in an integrated fashion.

An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness is part of the comprehensive, session-long Children’s Wellness Initiative, which aims to address the complex health needs specific to the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children. The effort seeks to make access to health care easier for vulnerable populations, eliminate barriers to care, and formulate data-driven recommendations to improve service delivery. The initiative supports a holistic approach that provides services early and often – ensuring that children grow to be healthier, happier, and more productive adults.

The first bill in this initiative creates a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy. Among the provisions of the legislation is the requirement that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families report to the Legislature on its efforts to improve the Commonwealth’s foster care system.

“Today we’re taking a major step to make child and adolescent wellbeing a House session-long priority, beginning with this legislation,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D – Winthrop).  “The Commonwealth’s children deserve a comprehensive support system so they may grow to be healthier, happier and more productive adults. I thank Chairs Benson, Michlewitz, Gregoire and Cronin as well as Vice-Chair Barber for their hard work on these efforts, and I look forward to building on these themes as the session unfolds.”

“As the House Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing, I was proud to work with my colleagues to bring this important legislation to the House floor. Nothing is more heartbreaking than talking to a constituent whose child is in crisis, but they’re having difficulty finding healthcare services in the complex system of providers, insurers, and resources,” said Representative Benson. “By identifying and addressing these difficulties in this legislation, we are working to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth will be able to access high-quality services quickly and efficiently.”

The legislation addresses child wellness in the following eight areas:

  1. Requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report on efforts to improve the foster care system in the Commonwealth, including steps it is taking to provide increased coverage in underserved regions, share relevant medical history with foster parents, and provide access to mental health supports and timely information on children in DCF custody who have died from abuse or neglect.  The report is due by October 15, 2019.
  • Secures healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, making it easier for this vulnerable population to access to MassHealth benefits they are entitled at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. It codifies the practice for Massachusetts in the event of change on the federal level to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Requires insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories for health plans. The provision directs companies to make the directories available without requiring users to create a new online account or profile. The directory must be updated frequently to ensure the information is correct. Insurance companies must take steps to make the directors use-friendly for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. Establishes a task force to develop recommendations to ensure the accurate electronic posting of directories headed by the Commissioner of Insurance.
  • Creates childhood behavioral health centers of excellence via a pilot program that designates three regional centers to act as clearinghouses to connect families, providers, and educators to services and training opportunities. Requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to report on progress and impact after one year of implementation.
  • Requires the Heath Policy Commission to conduct analysis within the next year of children with medical complexity to analyze costs and population characteristics of this group in order to develop recommendations about how to serve this unique population.
  • Establishes a task force to study pediatric behavioral health screening tools.
  • Creates a special commission to examine the pediatric workforce to address pediatric provider availability and adequacy. The Commission would recommend strategies for increasing the pipeline of pediatric providers and expanding access to practicing providers.  
  • Charges a 17-member special commission to review the Department of Public Health’s School-Based Health Center Program for the purpose of strengthening, improving, and considering ways to replicate best practices across the state.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Benson Votes with Legislature to Pass Balanced Budget with Significant Investments in Education and Health Care

BOSTON – On Monday afternoon, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), along with her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature, passed the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020) budget. Funded at $43.1 billion, the budget makes major investments in education, health care, and other areas while projecting a $476 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund – bringing the fund’s balance to more than $3 billion to safeguard the financial stability of the Commonwealth.

“This budget reflects the Legislature’s values and priorities by making historic investments in education, with the largest year-over-year increase in public education funding in decades,” said Representative Benson. “Throughout the budget process, I was proud to advocate for the priorities of my constituents and local aid funding for the towns of my district.”

Funding for projects and programs specific to the 37th Middlesex District in the FY2020 budget include:

  • $150,000 for the Acton Miracle Field Facilities;
  • $100,000 for the renovation of a building in Acton to serve as a community center;
  • $100,000 for elderly and commuter shuttles linking to the Commuter Rail Station in Acton;
  • $250,000 for improvements to the Depot Square area and commuter rail facility in Ayer;
  • $150,000 for the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at the Devens campus at Mount Wachusett Community College;
  • $165,000 for the removal of fuel storage tanks in Lunenburg;
  • $100,000 for the Lunenburg Fire Department to purchase new equipment;
  • $67,000 for improvements to the Lunenburg Senior Center and Town Hall;
  • $50,000 for renovations to the Shirley War Memorial Building; and
  • Prison mitigation funding for towns such as Shirley that host Department of Corrections facilities.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the budget will increase the Commonwealth’s contribution to the Community Preservation Act, which will provide $36 million more for projects across the Commonwealth. This will help raise the state’s match up to 30% for investments in open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation.

The budget provides $5.17 billion in Chapter 70 education funding as part of a $268 million increase for investments in public schools over FY2019. It also addresses the need for integrated student health and wellness supports, providing $2 million to establish the Supporting Health Alliances Reinforcing Education (SHARE) grant program to address non-academic barriers to school success. The budget builds on the Legislature’s commitment to education from early childhood through adulthood by increasing rates for early education providers by $20 million and supporting continuing education opportunities with community colleges. Additional education allocations include:

  • $345 million for Special Education Circuit Breaker reimbursement;
  • $115 million for charter school reimbursement;
  • $75.9 million for regional school transportation reimbursement; and
  • $8.3 million for After-School and Out-of-School Time grants.

The budget continues to prioritize the Commonwealth’s efforts to address the opioid epidemic – a public health crisis that has touched nearly every household across the Commonwealth. To help those in need, the budget gives all EMS and ambulance companies access to discounted naloxone, making it more available for use in the field. In addition, the budget includes:

  • $150 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, which will help create five new recovery centers across the state and support substance use disorder workforce initiatives; and
  • $5.5 million for a comprehensive statewide strategy for community-based harm reduction services.

“I am proud of this fiscally responsible budget that supports the needs of individuals, families, and communities across the Commonwealth through thoughtful investments that increase local aid, strengthen our health care system, and protect the environment,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This budget bolsters our ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis, invest in high-quality early education and care, and makes another significant deposit into the state’s Stabilization Fund. These investments will have a long and lasting positive effect on the residents of Massachusetts. I want to thank Chair Michlewitz for his leadership and my colleagues in the House, especially those on the conference committee, who worked to put this package together.”

MassHealth, the single largest program in the Commonwealth’s budget, provides health insurance coverage for our most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, low-income mothers with children, and the working poor. In addition to funding this key safety net program, the budget also funds supplemental rates for nursing homes in the MassHealth programs at $415 million, a 13.5% increase over FY2019.

The budget includes policy language that gives the Executive Office of Health & Human Services (EOHHS) and the Health Policy Commission (HPC) more tools to lower drug costs in the MassHealth program. The language allows EOHHS to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers for supplemental rebates to lower overall prescription drug spending within MassHealth. EOHHS can hold public hearings on supplemental rebates where members of the public can weigh in by providing testimony. If EOHHS and a manufacturer still cannot reach an agreement on the price of a drug, EOHHS has the option to refer the matter to the HPC for a thorough investigation.. The HPC can then make a determination regarding whether the price of the drug is unreasonable or excessive.

Passed by the House and Senate, the budget now goes to Governor Baker for his signature.

Lisa Normandin of Lunenburg Named an Unsung Heroine by the MA Commission on the Status of Women

BOSTON – Lisa Normandin of Lunenburg was honored as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women’s 2019 class of Unsung Heroines.  Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) submitted Lisa’s name for this recognition because of her more than 30 years of service to Lunenburg and her work with the Turkey Hill Family Lions Club. Lisa was honored for her outstanding contributions to her community in a ceremony on Tuesday in the Great Hall at the State House.

Lisa has worked for the Town of Lunenburg for over 30 years, is an original member of the Lunenburg Turkey Hill Lions Club, and currently serves as the Club’s president. Last year, when a grain silo collapsed and destroyed Cherry Hill Barn, a beloved landmark and family farm in Lunenburg, Lisa and the Lion’s Club sprang into action, raising over $60,000 to help offset costs for the family and rebuild the barn. Also through the Lion’s Club, Lisa plans fundraising events to benefit the local food pantry they operate, and distributes more than 120 baskets of food to needy families every Thanksgiving. Lisa’s three decades of quiet commitment to bettering her community and helping those in need is why she is deserving of recognition as an Unsung Heroine.

Unsung Heroines are women who don’t make the news, but make the difference. They are the women who use their time, talent, and enthusiasm to enrich the lives of others and make a difference in their communities. They are mentors, volunteers, and innovators who do what needs to be done without expectations of recognition or gratitude. These women are the glue that keeps communities together.

The ceremony included remarks from Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Harriette Chandler. The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women (MCSW) is an independent state agency that was created by the Legislature in 1998 to advance women of the Commonwealth to full equality in all areas of life and to promote their rights and opportunities. The MCSW provides a permanent, effective voice for the women of Massachusetts.

Rep. Benson’s May 2019 Office Update

Around The District

Ayer Events

I began May as the guest speaker at Ayer Shirley Regional High School’s National Honor Society Induction ceremony. I spoke about the four pillars of the NHS: scholarship, service, leadership, and character, and how those qualities have helped me in my career as a legislator. It was wonderful to be able to address the ASRHS NHS inductees and their families, and I look forward to following their future accomplishments.

Also in Ayer, I attended the groundbreaking for the Ayer Commuter Rail parking facility. The event was 31 years in the making, and was made possible by leaders at the Congressional, state, and local levels overcoming many financial, legal, and logistical barriers. Starting in 2020, commuters and users of the Rail Trail from Ayer and surrounding towns will have access to a brand new, two-level facility and 180 parking spaces. While the facility is being built, limited parking is available at Depot Square. More information is available on the Town of Ayer’s website.

Celebrating the groundbreaking at the Ayer Commuter Rail Parking Facility with
Senator Eldridge and Representative Harrington.

Acton Happenings

In Acton, I toured First Connections with Senator Jamie Eldridge. First Connections is a non-profit organization that supports new parents by teaching them the skills they need to care for their children. I met with staff at the organization as well as some of the parents who use their services, and we discussed challenges facing working families and the need for more state support for parenting education programs.

I was invited to attend the monthly meeting of the Acton chapter of Indivisible, where I discussed my carbon pricing bill, H.2810. It was great to connect with constituents who are passionate about combatting climate change and engaged in the conversation about the policy options available to us.

Memorial Day in Boxborough & Lunenburg

At North Cemetery in Boxborough for Memorial Day.

To venerate our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, I participated in ceremonies in Boxborough and Lunenburg. In Boxborough, I marched in the parade and presented Governor Baker’s Memorial Day proclamation at North Cemetery. Later in the day, I attended the Lunenburg ceremony at the town’s Veterans Memorial Park. In both towns, many people came out in the beautiful weather to honor American soldiers who died in active service.

At the State House

RJ Grey Junior High Visit

On May 16, I hosted Mrs. Karamourtopoulos’ ESL class from RJ Grey Junior High in Acton at the State House. The class went on a guided tour of the State House and watched an informal session of the House of Representatives. Afterward, I spoke with the class about my experience in government, and my colleague Rep. Antonio Cabral discussed his immigration story. I’m glad the students are interested in learning about state government.

With Mrs. Karamourtopoulos’s class at the State House.

Legislative Update

In May, the House of Representatives passed several important bills related to transportation safety and infrastructure. On May 15, I voted with the House to pass legislation fining drivers who are pulled over for operating a cellphone with their hands while driving. The bill requires drivers to use hands-free technology such as Bluetooth, and still allows for the use of GPS apps if the phone is mounted to the dash.

The Legislature also sent a bill funding local infrastructure maintenance to the Governor’s desk. $200 million will be expended in FY20 to repair and update municipal roads and bridges, including $2.17 million for the towns of the 37th Middlesex District. Additionally, the House authorized $1.5 billion in spending for large-scale transportation projects across the state over the next few years, including:

  • $18.5 million for the resurfacing of Route 2;
  • $10.6 million for the next phase of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in Acton;
  • $3.7 million for improvements to the Piper Road and Taylor Road intersection with Route 2 in Acton;
  • $1.6 million for the replacement of the Mulpus Brook Bridge in Shirley; and
  • $980 thousand for stormwater improvements along Route 2A, including in Ayer.

Committee Update

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing held two hearings in May. We collected testimony on bills related to care management, support for special populations, and health care delivery system oversight. The Committee has collected testimony for hundreds of bills, and we still have a few more hearings scheduled.

Looking Ahead

June will be a busy month at the State House, with Health Care Financing Committee hearings, bills being taken up by the House, and a briefing I’m hosting on my carbon pricing bill.

If you’re having trouble with a state government issue or want to discuss a legislative matter, you can contact my District office at 978-582-4146 ext. 4. You can contact my State House office at 617-722-2430, or Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov.

Sincerely,