Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster

Maybe it’s a subliminal reminder to do well in school, but girls’ names ending in “a” are all the rage in Massachusetts. According to the Social Security Administration, the top five names for newborn girls in the Bay State last year were Ava, Isabella, Emma, Sophia, and Olivia. Nationally, the top five included Emily and Madison, but they got less love here. The good old Irish name of Mary, a standby in the Bay State’s top 10 until 1969, fell all the way to 95th place.

On the boys’ side, Matthew, Ryan, Michael, Nicholas, and Andrew headed the list. (This was the only state where Matthew was on top.) Jacob, Joshua, and Ethan were in the national top five but got snubbed here. The president’s first name, George, didn’t make the top 100 at either the state or national level. Less surprisingly, Mitt and Deval were also absent. But John continues to poll well in JFK’s home state, coming in sixth; it’s one of the very few names that has been consistently popular over the past 50 years.

Mosquito patrol

The risk of contracting eastern equine encephalitis in Massachusetts peaks during the second half of August, according to the Department of Public Health, due to the prevalence of adult mosquitoes. The DPH recommends aerial spraying to kill mosquitoes (using an “adulticide” called Anvil that targets fully grown insects but is not considered harmful to humans), but some communities are voicing doubts about the technique.

In May the town of Grafton took its chances and opted out of the 38-member Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project, saving $47,000 and pleasing residents who voiced fears that the spraying was also killing honey bees. And last fall the town of East Bridgewater became the first in the state to opt for a more natural form of pest control. It spent $1,000 apiece to set up 10 “bat houses” in areas that attract both humans and mosquitoes, such as athletic fields.

(Bats were not included in the purchase price, but officials are counting on the structures to do well on the housing market for upwardly mobile skeeter-eaters.) A representative of Atlantic Termite and Pest Control, which installed the houses, told the Boston Globe that each structure can accommodate 300 bats and that each bat can eat 1,200 insects an hour. Actual results should become known this summer.

Rush hour at the emergency room

The Division of Health Care Finance and Policy recently calculated that 1.02 million visits to Massachusetts hospital emergency rooms in FY 2005, which resulted in charges of $959 million, were unnecessary or could have been avoided “with timely and effective ambulatory care.” It turns out that avoidable ER visits are most frequent between 6 and 9 a.m.—perhaps because of the stress of getting ready for work combined with the fact that many health clinics are not open yet. Women, minority groups, and Medicaid recipients make up a disproportionate share of these ER visitors.

The agency’s report concludes, “Even if some percentage of visits by Medicaid and uninsured patients were moved to clinic or office settings, a substantial savings to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could accrue.”

Suffolk’s elected elite

“Robert” is the most common name in the current legislative roster on Beacon Hill (14 members), something that can’t last much longer. The new Massachusetts Political Almanac also reveals that Suffolk University claims the most former students in the Senate and House; 44 members, or almost one-quarter of the Legislature as of the beginning of this year, included the school on their biographies. Boston College is second, at 28, followed by Harvard, with 24. Boston University and MIT, known for their international student bodies, have few grads in legislative office, but at least BU can claim Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Tim Cahill.

Another stat gleaned from the Almanac: While 83 percent of the male legislators were born in Massachusetts, only 42 percent of female legislators can say the same.

Who’s lining up at our ATM?

Though 18 presidential candidates filed first-quarter reports with the Federal Election Commission, just three candidates—Republican Mitt Romney and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—accounted for 74 percent of the contributions from Bay State residents. Among Democrats, Clinton raised the most money ($980,000), doing especially well in Boston’s 02116. But Obama may be more dependent on the Bay State. He almost matched Clinton here, with $919,000, and Cambridge’s 02138 was his seventh-most-lucrative zip code in the entire country, giving him $183,000.

Mitt Romney collected an impressive $2.3 million in Massachusetts, but his top zip code was in Provo, Utah, making him the only major candidate whose biggest haul wasn’t in his home state. The Bay State did make an appearance in seventh place: Weston’s 02493 shelled out $132,000. Two of Romney’s Republican rivals had Massachusetts zip codes among their top five, but Sam Brownback’s four West Roxbury contributions amounted to only $4,750, and Ron Paul’s $4,600 from Wellesley came from two people with same last name.

Gaps in dental coverage

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Almost one-third of Bay State communities—including most of the territory west of Framingham—are part of a “dental shortage area,” meaning that they have a people-per-dentist ratio of more than 4,000-to-1, according to a new report by the Oral Health Collaborative of Massachusetts. A separate MassINC tally (using June data from the state Division of Professional Licensure) found that Charlton and Northbridge were the biggest towns without any currently licensed dentist, while Chelsea was the least-served city, with six dentists for a population of 33,000. By contrast, Brookline had 185 dentists, or one for every 300 people. The Collaborative warns that the dentist-to-population ratio is in a steady decline across the U.S., due to a lack of newcomers to replace retiring practitioners (see Statistically Significant, CW, Winter ’04).

One possible solution to the shortage is not getting much support among the tooth squad: The Massachusetts Dental Society is fighting a bill in the Legislature that would allow dental assistants and hygienists to practice without the direct supervision of fully licensed drillers.