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’s July 2019 Office Update

FY20 Budget Update

In late July, the Legislature passed the final FY20 budget, which was signed by Governor Baker with no spending vetoes. Funded at $43.1 billion, the budget makes major investments in education and health care, while projecting a $476 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund. Throughout the process, I advocated for constituent priorities, including the largest ever single-year increase in Chapter 70 education funding, and resources for many district projects:

  • $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 Depot Square and the commuter rail parking deck 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; and
  • $50,000 for renovations to the Shirley War Memorial Building.

Legislative Update

As the House Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing, I was proud to be part of the team of legislators that worked to bring a children’s health bill to the floor. An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness is part of a session-long initiative to address the health needs of Massachusetts’ 1.4 million children. The legislation passed in July would make access to health care, and specifically mental health care, easier for children by requiring insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories, creating childhood behavioral health centers of excellence across the state to provide resources to parents and schools, and directing state agencies to study issues around children’s health care.

Speaking on the House floor in favor of An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness

By identifying and addressing the deficiencies and difficulties in accessing care, we are working to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth will be able to access high-quality services quickly and efficiently.

The House also passed a bill funding infrastructure projects across the state to reduce emissions and help prepare communities for the coming consequences of climate change. Known as GreenWorks, the legislation establishes a 10-year, $1 billion grant program, modeled after the MassWorks program, for clean energy, energy efficiency, and climate change resiliency measures that cut greenhouse gas emissions, fortify infrastructure, and reduce municipal costs. Additionally, the GreenWorks bill provides $100 million for municipal microgrid systems, $125 million for the purchase of electric vehicles for regional transit authority fleets, and $30 million for the state’s electric vehicle rebate program.

Health Care Financing Committee Update

The Committee on Health Care Financing held two hearings in July. We collected testimony on about 50 bills, which members of the Committee and staff are now reviewing.

As I have been doing since the start of the summer, I continued touring medical centers around the state, and visited Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro with Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, and Heywood Hospital in Gardner. Learning how these facilities operate and discussing financing, staffing, and other challenges with their leadership teams is generating valuable insights as the Committee reviews bills and drafts legislation.

Looking Ahead

The Legislature does not hold formal sessions in August, so my next office update will be in early October.

If there is legislation that you wish to discuss, or you have a constituent matter you need help with, please reach out to my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2430.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Sincerely,

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.

Representative Benson’s June 2019 Office Update

At the State House

Nashoba Valley Chamber Beacon Hill Day

On June 12, the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce (NVCoC) held their annual Beacon Hill Day at the State House. I was happy to meet with Chamber leadership, including NVCoC President Melissa Fetterhoff, as well as small business owners of the 37th Middlesex District to discuss their legislative priorities and their concerns about transportation issues in the District.

Carbon Pricing Briefing

I hosted a briefing in June at the State House for legislators and staff to learn more about my carbon pricing bill, H.2810, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions. I was delighted that nearly 100 legislators and staffers attended to learn about the bill. I continue to be encouraged by the support building for my bill as we move through the legislative session.


Constituent Spotlight

Every year, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women honors “Unsung Heroines” across the state who make a difference in their communities. This year, I nominated Lisa Normandin from Lunenburg for this honor. 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. 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.


Legislative Update

Janus Fix Bill

In June, the House and Senate passed legislation protecting public sector unions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling. The bill allows public employee organizations in the state to charge non-members for the reasonable costs associated with representing them through the negotiation and grievance processes. The bill was sent to the Governor’s desk, but he returned it, unsigned, with an amendment.

Fair Share Amendment

In a Constitutional Convention on June 12, the House and Senate jointly voted to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to add a four percent surtax on household income above $1 million to fund public education and infrastructure programs. I was proud to vote for the Fair Share Amendment to support education funding reforms and infrastructure improvements in the 37th Middlesex District and across the Commonwealth. The Legislature must again approve the amendment in the 2021-2022 session in order for it to appear on the November 2022 statewide ballot for voter approval.

Budget Update

The Legislature passed a temporary spending measure that was signed into law by Governor Baker as the Conference Committee appointed to resolve the differences in the House and Senate budgets continues its work.


Committee Update

Legislative Hearing

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing held a hearing on June 11 on more than a dozen bills, including several related to single-payer health care, also known as “Medicare for All”. My co-Chair, Senator Friedman and I, as well as members of the Committee, collected testimony from over 100 people and organizations. We are currently reviewing the testimony and preparing for more hearings in July.

Chan School of Public Health Discussion

At Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, I participated in a discussion with faculty members, including public health experts and economists, as well as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Robert DeLeo. We talked about trends in health care spending in the state and nationally, and the policy solutions available to control costs and increase access to high quality care.

Health Center Tours

In June, I toured health centers around the Commonwealth to learn more about health care delivery in Massachusetts.  I traveled from Provincetown to Pittsfield and met with health center staff and leadership to learn how different types of communities provide health care services to their residents. I have further visits planned in July to other parts of the state.


Looking Ahead

In July, I’ll be attending several events in the District, and the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing will hold two more hearings.

Please feel free to reach out to my District office at 978-582-4146 ext. 4, and my State House office at 617-722-2430. You can contact me via email at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov.

Sincerely,


Jennifer Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District