Thursday, November 23, 2006


Even though Joan Vennochi pokes at me a little in today's column, I am glad to take the medicine for the cause she espouses. She sharply criticizes Governor Romney's recent budget cuts and issues a challenge to the new Administration, saying:

A lame-duck Romney is showing a willingness to exploit society's most vulnerable in order to look fiscally tough to a national audience.

But the future belongs to Governor-elect Deval Patrick and the Legislature. What will it be

As always, Joan is a voice of conscience and political reality. Equally important, people on Beacon Hill read what she says, and she can often have an impact on the course of events. Let's hope so in this case in particular.


For those who did not read the piece to which she refers, here is the beginning of the op-ed co-authored by Dr. Jim Mandell, CEO of Children's Hospital, and me back in December 2005.


In 2005, the defending world champion Boston Red Sox squeezed a record 2,847,888 faithful through the turnstiles of its "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark." An average of 35,159 fans cheered their hometown heroes for each of 81 regular-season games.

In contrast, just down Brookline Avenue from Fenway Park, each year more than 14 million (more than 60,000 on any given day) patients and visitors, physicians and nurses, students and professors, medical researchers, administrators and others cram into the one-half mile radius of another jewel of Boston the Longwood Medical Area. Comprising 21 medical, academic, cultural, and religious organizations including Harvard Medical School and many of its affiliated teaching hospitals, as well as six colleges the area is one of the richest centers of health care, research, and education in the world and a major engine of economic growth in Massachusetts.


Anonymous said...

Sorry but her comparison is one of apples to watermelons. The traffic improvements are coming out of capital dollars and not operating dollars (as Vennochi herself admits).

And as anyone who has attempted to cross the Park Drive/Fenway intersection can attest, it is a menace that has the potential to give area hospitals considerable business.

The saddest thing is that we are talking about competing priorities such as human services and economic development at a time when the state is doing well.

It is entirely appropriate for the state to finance long-term infrastructure improvements for an area that serves as one of the city's economic engines. If a private entertainment business also benefits, who is harmed?

It is entirely inappropriate for the state to cut off its most vulnerable citizens as part of a grandstand move by a chief executive looking to prove his fiscal bona fides to a national conservative Republican primary audience.

I will grant her one thing: $50 million for the right to even talk to an athlete who you may pay another $40 million is lunacy.

If a government or a non-profit did that type of recruiting it would also make front page headlines: as an example of irrational exuberance.

Anonymous said...

Good for Joan Vennochi for her column today, but the people of this fair state should also speak up about state priorities. We're a wealthy state, yes, but we also have a responsibility to insist on good stewardship of our shared resources, e.g. state and local budgets, our environment, our health and health care system, etc...)

Please consider taking action to have your voice be heard about this issue of priorities. Here’s what one person did as an example disclosure: it was me, I'm a nurse and I have a sister with serious mental illness who lives down south): Caller dialed Mr. Romney at work and spoke with “Dan” in the Guv’s office (Dan not allowed to give his last name for “security reasons”-huh?, then spoke with staffer House Speaker DiMasis’s office and then Shirley in DMH Commissioner Child’s office.

Caller said:

“Please give X this message: I am a taxpayer/voter/nurse/concerned citizen who is looking for constructive leadership to address the 9C cuts fiasco. It is a disgrace to the state that these $450mil in 9C cuts were made in such “political football” fashion and were made half-way thru the budget cycle. Responsible public leadership is needed NOW, along with a timely resolution to restore the cuts to essential HUMAN SERVICE programs such as DMH, Meals on Wheels, Home care, Youth programs and the like.

Caller also said thank you to Commissioner Childs for her very appropriate leadership that she has courageously demonstrated as she and her entire Dept. and the people they serve are shoved into this quagmire.

In addition to the useful info posted here and elsewhere on the impact of the DMH cuts, you can also gain a broader perspective on the mental health services aspect of this policy & politics fiasco by clicking the below link for a study that was done by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a comprehensive state-by-state analysis of mental health care systems, the first in 15 years. Every U.S. state has been scored on 39 specific criteria resulting in an overall grade and four sub-category grades for each state. The national average grade is D.

Five states receive grades in the B range. Eight receive F’s. None received A’s. Massachusetts received a C-. Here’s the link for Grading the States 2006, Massachusetts section

Please take action in the next day or 2 to help restore the funds to vital humand a nd social service programs that do, indeed, benefit all of us who live in this community called Massachusetts.

It only takes a few minutes to pick up the phone and leave a few messages, or to email a letter to the editor. 617-722-2000 for the State House switchboard. 617-626-8123 for DMH Cmsr. Elizabeth Childs. 617-573-1600 for HHS Secretary Tim Murphy .

Help shoulder the collective responsiblity to make this right. Thank you.


And to reinforce the very human dimensions of this issue, here's a public statement from a mother whose son is very ill (from the HCFA blog post Nov 20, 2006):

"I am beside myself with anger and despair at this latest round of cuts to mental health services — following years of cuts and grossly inadequate availability of services. How can Romney (Mr Family Values man) contenance this attack on the most vulnerable people in our state (yes, more vulnerable than the physically handicapped who do not labor under the same disenfranchising stigma). My son’s life is being destroyed by mental illness and the inability to get adequate insurance coverage or care, and my life is being destroyed by grief, anxiety, and financial stress related to his illness. Mental illness doesn’t have to mean condemnation to unmitigated suffering, and the burden of it shouldn’t / can’t be born by families of the afflicted alone."

Bwana said...

Apropos of the discussion about mental health cuts and the possibility of legal action, The NY Times carried a short blurb today, the substance of which (I'm rewritten it due to copyright issues) is:

November 23, 2006
Florida: Judge Threatens Jail Over Treatment of Mentally Ill Inmates

A judge threatened to jail the head of the State Department of Children and Families if she could not explain why the agency had consistently failed to provide psychiatric treatment for mentally ill jail inmates. Apparently Florida law gives the department 15 days to place inmates judged incompetent to stand trial, in psychiatric treatment.

The legal proceeding is an effort by public defenders to force the state department to treat the inmates. The judge already found the agency in contempt a week ago. Now he has ordered the agency secretary, to appear in court next month to show cause why she should not be jailed for failing to obey the law - and presumably, the court's orders.


new subject:

On another note, readers may be nonplussed to note that Governor Mitt Romney yesterday accused Senator John McCain of being "disingenuous" in his position on same-sex marriage - by saying that he was opposed to it and that the issue should be decided by the states.

Okay, I think I got the sense of both positions.


Anonymous said...

After reading Ms. Vennochi's column, I had a few questions including: (1) Does Ms. Vennochi think taxes in MA are too low? (2) Does she think resources are infinite? (3) Does she think high income people can always pay more in taxes no matter how much they are already paying? (4) Does she have any constructive suggestions as to how mental health programs could be run more efficiently or where money could be freed up elsewhere in the government to support mental health?

While I can't speak to the merits of the proposed cutbacks in the MA mental health programs, I often find it exasperating and annoying when advocates for any government funded constituency start screaming about horrible consequences whenever there is a hint that funding may be reduced. Before federal welfare reform was passed in 1996, fore example, I remember reading about all of the terrible consequences that would befall children if the bill became law. Well, it became law and turned out to be one of the most successful social program reforms in modern memory. Ms. Vennochi might have more credibility if she offered some ideas on how to raise the revenue to make the cutbacks unnecessary beyond raise taxes or don't cut you, don't cut me, cut that fella behind the tree.