Politics

What are the lawmakers, and other state and federal officials, up to when it comes to health reform laws?

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Baker Taps Marylou Sudders To Lead Health And Human Services Department

Gov.-elect Charlie Baker is choosing someone he worked with in the Weld administration to lead the largest agency in the state — the Department of Health and Human Services. Baker said Friday he tapped Marylou Sudders for the post in part because of her collaborative spirit.

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Several groups are praising his choice, citing Sudders’ work as the former state mental health commissioner and former head of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

WBUR’s Deborah Becker spoke with Sudders and started by asking her why she wants to take over an agency facing several challenges. Their lightly edited conversation is below.

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Marylou Sudder: I’m a public servant at heart. In many ways I feel like my entire professional career has been preparing me for a position such as secretary of Health and Human Services. I believe in the tremendous opportunities in the commonwealth. I’ve never shied away from challenges and I have tremendous faith in really good people fixing these problems.

Deborah Becker: Let’s talk about some of those problems, some of which were raised in a recent survey from the National Alliance for Mental Illness. They want to know what the Baker administration will do about hospital emergency rooms holding patients with a mental illness because they can’t find beds in treatment facilities, or over incarcerating folks with mental illness. Are those your priorities?

These are issues I’m very familiar with. I have every confidence that this administration will be looking at the full health needs, and health will be defined as both the physical and behavioral health needs in this administration.

With the many challenges in this field, what do you hope to accomplish?

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Baker Names Sudders As His Health And Human Services Chief

Marylou Sudders is poised to be named Gov.-elect Charlie Baker’s new head of health and human services, a Baker aide has confirmed to WBUR.

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marylou Sudders (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sudders is the state’s former mental health commissioner.

State House News Service reports:

Sudders, an associate professor of health and mental health at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work, was recruited by Baker to state government in the mid-1990s and served as commissioner of mental health under Republican Govs. William Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift from 1996 until 2003. She held a similar position in New Hampshire.

Health and human services is the state’s largest executive agency.

The formal appointment is expected later Friday.

Westminster Officials Shut Down Rowdy Hearing On Tobacco Ban After 20 Minutes

Brian Vincent poses in front of a large display of tobacco products at Vincent's Country Store in Westminster on Nov. 6. Local officials are contemplating what could be a first: a blanket ban on all forms of tobacco and e-cigarettes, leaving some shop owners fuming. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Brian Vincent poses in front of a large display of tobacco products at Vincent’s Country Store in Westminster on Nov. 6. Local officials are contemplating what could be a first: a blanket ban on all forms of tobacco and e-cigarettes, leaving some shop owners fuming. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Health officials in the central Massachusetts town of Westminster say they will not hold another public hearing on their proposed first-in-the-nation town-wide ban on tobacco sales, after a rowdy crowd of hundreds forced Wednesday night’s meeting to end in just 20 minutes.

Board members began the hearing with warnings that if the crowd couldn’t remain calm and respectful, they would end the meeting.

The hearing was dominated by opponents of the ban, such as Westminster resident Kevin West.

“I find smoking to be one of the most disgusting habits anybody could possibly do. On top of that, I find this proposal to be even more of a disgusting thing that anybody could ever give any town in the United States of America,” he said.

When repeated efforts to calm the crowd, which erupted into applause a number of times, failed, the meeting was ended and health board members were escorted out by police.

Instead of another meeting, the board will accept written comments through the end of the month.

State, Feds Reach Five-Year, $41.4B Health Care Accord

The Patrick administration early Friday evening announced a five-year health care deal with the federal government worth $41.4 billion, which will succeed a three-year $26.75 billion waiver agreement that expired June 30.

In response to an afternoon inquiry from the News Service about a deal being reached, administration officials after 6:30 p.m. Friday confirmed that the so-called 1115 demonstration waiver deal had been struck with the Obama administration on Thursday night.

“Massachusetts has proven itself a national leader in health care reform with our success in extending coverage to nearly all residents of the Commonwealth,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement. “This new agreement will help us build on our success while also spearheading innovative cost-containment efforts across the state. We are thankful for the support of the Obama Administration, the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation, and our partners for sharing our commitment to health care reform.”

The overall deal represents about $640 million less per year compared to the most recent waiver, but two top Patrick administration officials during a conference call ticked through a long list of areas where they said support from the federal government, both in financial terms and with regard to key health care cost containment, payment, and care delivery reforms, would increase in the coming years.

“We’re incredibly excited about support for the Commonwealth of over $41 billion over the next five years,” said Health and Human Service Secretary John Polanowicz.

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6 Mass. Hospitals Collaborate On Ebola Response Plan

An entrance to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The hospital is one of six in the state that have formed a collaborative system to handle Ebola patients. (Steven Senne/AP)

An entrance to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The hospital is one of six in the state that have formed a collaborative system to handle Ebola patients. (Steven Senne/AP)

Updated at 5 p.m.

BOSTON — Massachusetts public health leaders said Friday that while the risk of Ebola remains very low in the state, six hospitals are prepared to handle one patient each, meaning the state could treat six patients at any given time.

The announcement clears up some confusion around which hospitals are ready to care for an Ebola patient if there is a confirmed case in Massachusetts.

The six hospitals collaborating to provide care include Bay State Medical Center in Springfield and five Boston facilities: Boston Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Tufts Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Hundreds of people at each hospital have spent incalculable hours in the necessary planning, training and practice efforts that are needed to respond to the challenges posed by this disease,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, vice chair of emergency preparedness at Mass General.

Boston Children’s Hospital says it expects to join the Ebola treatment collaborative, and UMass Memorial in Worcester may as well.

The other 59 acute care hospitals in Massachusetts would screen a patient, hold anyone who is at high risk or Ebola-positive in isolation, and then transfer the patient, says Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett.

“By creating this coordinated, collaborative system, we reduce the number of people who have to have that level of intensive training to care for an Ebola patient and this is one of the reasons for our announcement today,” Bartlett said.

Massachusetts hospitals do not expect to take Ebola patients from other states. Bartlett says the Centers for Disease Control has asked each state to be ready to care for its own.

All this costly planning is making some physicians, nurses and other hospital staff nervous.

“We’re fighting fear with facts and being direct with our staff members,” said Dr. Eric Goralnick, medical director of emergency preparedness at the Brigham. “Obviously there is a lot of anxiety around this issue. We’re being aggressive around communications, and listening and listening and listening, and educating, and focused on training, exercising and preparing for this.”

There is no uniform policy for staff who treat Ebola patients in Massachusetts hospitals, but several say personnel could come and go as they would on any shift. Each doctor, nurse or lab worker would monitor their temperature twice a day.

Hospitals that take Ebola patients expect a financial hit as patients avoid “the place that is treating Ebola.” In announcing the collaborative hospital effort Friday, the Department of Public Health stressed the work it has done to prepare for Ebola, but some hospitals say they need more help with equipment, training and the possible loss of business.

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Against Odds, Menino Fought Successfully To Merge 2 City Hospitals

At rear left is Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, pictured standing near, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., shakes hands with nurse Janet Killarney while visiting the Boston Medical Center in 2004. (Charles Krupa/AP)

At rear left is Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, pictured standing near, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., shakes hands with nurse Janet Killarney while visiting the Boston Medical Center in 2004. (Charles Krupa/AP)

In 1996, it took all of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s political muscle to pull off what some consider a managerial miracle. Despite intense union opposition, a reluctant city council and concerns about health care costs, Menino fought successfully for the merger of two city hospitals that had been founded in the mid-19th century.

Today, Boston Medical Center stands as an enduring legacy to Menino’s efforts to serve the health needs of the city’s neediest citizens.

On Thursday a steady stream of ambulances, people in wheelchairs and children pushed in strollers entered and left the Menino Pavillion on the Boston Medical Center campus.

“Me and all my children go here. It’s a great hospital,” said Jasmine Vigo, who was leaving the Menino Center with her infant son.

“He was wheezing. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t like a viral infection or something like that. He didn’t,” she said.

Vigo said she had all four of her children in the Menino building.

The eight-story brick building, bearing the former mayor’s name, contains clinics for adults and obstetrics. Its emergency room is the busiest in the Northeast. Meanwhile, its pediatric clinic provides health care to 30,000 kids a year — and that’s just at this one building on the sprawling Boston Medical Center campus.

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Where Baker, Coakley Stand On Health Care

Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker, before a televised debate Tuesday in Boston (Barry Chin/Boston Globe/Pool/AP)

Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker, before a televised debate Tuesday in Boston (Barry Chin/Boston Globe/Pool/AP)

It’s nearly half the state budget, almost 20 percent of the state’s economy and a perennial top concern for voters. The issue is health care, and so far, neither Democrat Martha Coakley nor Republican Charlie Baker has taken the lead on this topic with voters in the gubernatorial race.

“Coakley has perhaps a slight edge on the general health care issue, as well as the affordability issue, but neither campaign has really broken away” on health care, said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group. “It’s not like taxes, which go big for Baker. It’s not like education, which tends to go a bit bigger Coakley. It’s an issue that is still very closely fought.”

So where do the gubernatorial candidates stand on some of the key concerns in health care? Below is a summary of the candidates’ proposals for how to treat the health of the state.

On Making Health Care More Affordable:

BAKER: He argues that giving patients information about how much tests and procedures cost, in advance, will help us become informed consumers of care. We’ll spend less money, because we’ll choose to have a baby, for example, at the hospital with the lowest cost and best quality scores. As of Oct. 1, health plans in Massachusetts are required to post what they pay each hospital and doctor.

Baker would take a next step. “I’d like to get to the point where hospitals just post prices and people can see them plain as day,” Baker said. “As governor, I’m going to lean really hard on this.”

Some health care analysts say Baker’s strategy for reducing health care costs could backfire. Patients may assume that the most expensive hospital is the best even though that’s generally not true. And letting Brockton Hospital, for example, know that it is paid about half of what Massachusetts General Hospital receives for a C-section may mean Brockton Hospital demands more money, instead of MGH saying, “OK, I’m going to lower my prices to compete.” In addition, some of the expensive hospitals say their higher prices subsidize teaching and research.

COAKLEY: She argues she is uniquely positioned to tackle health care spending. She created a health care division in the attorney general’s office, issued the first detailed reports on health care costs and used her leverage to negotiate a deal that would limit the price increases Partners HealthCare could demand in the near future.

“The agreement that we have reached, to be approved by the court, caps costs and lowers costs as opposed to maintaining the status quo, which we all agree is too expensive,” Coakley said during a campaign debate on WBZ-TV. Continue reading

Surgeon General Nominee Murthy Loses Support Of Key Backers

Dr. Vivek Murthy (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

Dr. Vivek Murthy (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

One of the country’s leading medical journals is withdrawing support for a Brigham and Women’s Hospital physician nominated by President Obama to become the next surgeon general.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) endorsed Vivek Murthy in May, but an editorial published Wednesday withdraws that support.

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Mass. Lawmakers Hear Calls For Ebola Training

As nurses raised alarms that they are untrained and ill equipped to handle cases of Ebola virus, Massachusetts hospital officials said Thursday that the health crisis emerging from West Africa demands a unique response.

A licensed clinician participates in a CDC training course in Alabama earlier this month for treating Ebola patients. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

A licensed clinician participates in a CDC training course in Alabama earlier this month for treating Ebola patients. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

At a Public Health Committee hearing, Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Preparedness Chief Dr. Paul Biddinger said handling cases of Ebola is “fundamentally different” than regular medical care, and suggested hospitals should create a “highly trained expert cadre” to handle Ebola rather than attempting to train all staff equally.

Massachusetts has not had a confirmed case of the deadly disease, though there have been suspect cases and two nurses at a Texas hospital have been infected with the disease. Ebola is spread from the fluids of a person who is infected and symptomatic.

Massachusetts Nurses Association President Donna Kelly Williams said the training and equipment at Massachusetts hospitals is “inconsistent,” and nurses have said they have been provided with “flimsy” garments that Williams said would not adequately protect them against infection.

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