Senator says nursing home industry collapsing

The Senate’s lead person on health care issues says the skilled nursing home industry in Massachusetts is struggling to stay afloat amid a virus that has claimed 3,534 lives at the facilities.

“What we are seeing is an industry that was on or near the verge of collapse and it is collapsing,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington. Friedman was speaking on the Health or Consequences Codcast with John McDonough of the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University and Paul Hattis of the Tufts University Medical School.

Friedman, the Senate chair of the Health Care Financing Committee, said the Baker administration was right to pump $130 million of Medicaid funding into the industry and launch audits of each nursing home to check compliance with a 28-point checklist for infection control.

“You can argue that it didn’t happen fast enough or it isn’t enough, but what they’re doing right now is what needs to happen. It is a huge issue and it is extremely complicated. What we’re seeing is years of, you know, big companies coming in and buying nursing homes,” she said. “Nursing homes used to be all mom and pop local. Now they’re run by people in places like New Jersey and Texas. They don’t know from Massachusetts.”

Friedman traces a lot of the problem to the nature of the workforce at long-term care facilities, where many workers earn $15 an hour. “It’s a workforce that has been drastically underpaid for the work that they do,” she said. “These people have two jobs, three jobs, they go from one nursing home to another. What did we expect?”

The senator said the system is not sustainable. “People need to be able to come and work there and have one job and be able to learn a living wage,” she said.

The wide-ranging interview touched on many subjects. Friedman said the Legislature has been productive during the pandemic and indicated it’s very possible lawmakers may extend the session beyond the normal July 31 shutdown date to deal with the very uncertain budget situation.

If the session is extended, Friedman said, she will be pushing legislation to deal with mental health and prescription drug pricing. She also said the stability of smaller health care institutions, such as community hospitals, neighborhood health centers, and physician practices, needs to be addressed.

“What do we need and where do we need it?” she asked. “If we have learned nothing from this, we have learned how fragile the health care system is and how difficult it is to deliver care where it’s needed.”

She gives the Baker administration, and particularly its COVID-19 command center, credit for its handling of the crisis. “Given what their challenges have been, they have done an amazing job,” she said. “We’re very, very lucky and I’m really grateful for the bipartisan effort that has gone into it.”

Friedman said the pandemic has also driven home the importance of social determinants of health, with low-income, minority communities taking the brunt of infections. “If we weren’t clear about what it means to be poor and sick in the United States, we have certainly learned it now,” she said.

“I get up every morning and just thank whoever for the life I have and the privileges I have and my ability to social distance and keep my job,” she said. “When I think about other people in the Commonwealth and the country, I am just fine.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker will unveil his reopening report on Monday amid great expectations about the state getting back to some semblance of normal. Construction, manufacturing, and houses of worship will be the first to reopen under strict conditions. (MassLive) But many believe, based on Baker’s own comments over the last week, little will happen this week and the real reopening will start on May 25. (CommonWealth)

Lew Finfer, who lobbied for the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, details some of the sausage-making involved with the legislation. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts commits $56 million to address food insecurity in Massachusetts. (MassLive)

Jodi Rosenbaum of More Than Words and Elisabeth Jackson of Bridge Over Troubled Waters call for shutting down the pipeline to homelessness run by the Department of Children and Families. (CommonWealth)

Rep. Liz Miranda talks about her bout with COVID-19 and how most of her extended family are recovering. (Dorchester Reporter)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard explains his actions, now running out of gas, that sought to fine Crane Stationery for failing to comply with a series of orders on its controversial reopening. (Berkshire Eagle)

Municipalities still don’t know what their budgets will look like, amid falling tax revenues. (The Salem News) Some have starting furloughing workers, with more cuts expected. (Boston Globe)

The Natick library has come up with a system allowing residents to reserve books online and then pick them up. (MetroWest Daily News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

As the state begins to reopen, UMass Dartmouth biology professor Erin Bromage provides a very accessible primer on the risks of catching the coronavirus. The piece went viral with more than 13 million hits when Bromage first posted it on his website. (CommonWealth)

Cambridge-based Moderna reports encouraging initiative results with a coronavirus vaccine and said it hopes to begin a full clinical trial in July. (Washington Post)

The pandemic is having a major impact on mental health. (Telegram & Gazette)

Monica Cannon-Grant of Violence in Boston and David Harris of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School say structural racism is the real pandemic. (CommonWealth)

Doctors say it will take time to discover whether coronavirus cases spike after Massachusetts starts reopening. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

At least a dozen states report that they have more coronavirus testing capacity than residents stepping forward to get swabbed. (Washington Post)

A furor is unfolding over the Friday night sacking of the State Department’s inspector general, who was said to be mounting an investigation into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was improperly having employees do personal tasks, including picking up takeout meals and retrieving his dog from the groomer. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Politico reports that Rep. Val Demings’s stock is rising as a potential Joe Biden running mate. Meanwhile, Demings gets an endorsement from an unlikely source — the Globe’s resident conservative columnist, Jeff Jacoby.

The Democratic primary race between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and challenger US Rep. Joe Kennedy III seems to be heating up. (WBUR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

COVID-19 is prompting a surge in worker safety complaints as employees face exposure to the deadly virus. (Boston Globe) Amazon is coming under particular fire. (Boston Globe)

The North Andover town moderator was among the developers of free software called Safe Meeting that determines how big a room you need to hold a socially distanced gathering. (Eagle-Tribune)

Some businesses – such as those involved in cleaning or appliance sales – have seen an unexpected boost in business during the pandemic. (Telegram & Gazette)

Brockton’s postal service headquarters deals with a slew of packages from click-happy locals stuck at home—delivering 9,000 packages in a day to a city with 95,000 people. (The Enterprise)

The Cape and Islands hospitality industry views summer business as critical to staying afloat, but their future remains uncertain during the four-step reopening. (Cape Cod Times)

EDUCATION

Teachers are on call at all hours as education shifts out of the classroom. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Graduating seniors – including those in Lawrence and North Andover – are starting online petitions to reject virtual graduations and ask for in-person ceremonies at a later date. (Eagle-Tribune) Worcester seniors are similarly unhappy with plans for a virtual graduation. (Telegram & Gazette)

Some LGBTQ youth are facing rejection from their families during the lockdown. (WGBH)

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River faces the challenge of teaching trades remotely. (Herald News)

When schools open, Haverhill’s mayor worries that buses won’t be there due to a debate over how much to pay the bus company during the school closure. (Eagle-Tribune)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Massachusetts Cultural Council awards $950,000 in capital grants to 10 arts institutions in the Berkshires. (Berkshire Eagle)

A Globe editorial says museums should be allowed to sell artwork to stay afloat.

TRANSPORTATION

Jim Aloisi, the TransitMatters board member and former state transportation secretary, outlines how the state can attain a new normal, but he is worried about the T’s tentative approach on masks and passenger limits. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Newton City Councilor Emily Norton says we need to start using a lot less natural gas now. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Dover surgeon is being charged with killing his wife. (Boston Globe)

A Weymouth man is accused of killing his father. (Patriot Ledger)

A Florida appeals court hearing on prostitution solicitation charges against Patriots owner Robert Kraft, scheduled for May 21, has been postponed to June 30 and will be conducted via videoconferencing. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe now has more than 200,000 digital subscribers. (WGBH)