Early vaccination in prisons, a public health priority, proves politically charged

In Massachusetts, the priority given to incarcerated people stems from the broader focus on congregate settings, said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and chairman of the state’s vaccine advisory group.

“Congregate settings are congregate settings, and they are high density and at risk whether they’re long-term nursing facilities or prisons,” said another committee member, Massachusetts state Sen. Cindy Friedman (D). That inmates are in such dire need of inoculation, she said, shows the failures of criminal justice in America, revealing the “extent of the breakdown and the gaps and the poor access to behavioral health care.”

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Telemedicine Here To Stay In Massachusetts, Proponents Say

In a year with few victories to celebrate, advocates for expanded health care in Massachusetts are pointing to at least one win: More access to remote health care, or “telehealth.”

Since early in the pandemic, health insurers have been required to cover telehealth visits as they would in-person care under emergency orders from Gov. Charlie Baker. On Wednesday, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a health care bill that makes that change permanent.

Massachusetts Sen. Cindy Friedman, a sponsor of the new measures, says the natural, if accidental, experiment created by the pandemic has proven the utility of telehealth for certain services, especially behavioral and mental health.

“Behavioral health just alone, no-shows, which used to be over 60%, for a whole host of reasons, all of a sudden that no-show rate (dropped) to something like 5%. Because people all of a sudden had access in a way that they could control,” the Middlesex Democrat said.

Friedman, who was pushing for the changes before the coronavirus pandemic hit, said the need for expanded telehealth is now irrefutable.

“There’s a time and a place,” Friedman said. “You can work on something for a very long time and not get traction, and then there’s an outside force that comes long that really crystalizes the need and the urgency of doing something.”

“We hit this pandemic, and it was clear where we had gaps in our health care system that we needed to address, immediately and for the long term,” she added.

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Massachusetts lawmakers reach deal on health care bill ensuring coverage for telehealth visits, COVID-19 treatment

After nearly five months of closed-door negotiations, Massachusetts legislators have reached a deal on a health care package that requires insurance providers to cover telehealth appointments and a wider range of COVID-19 tests and treatment.

The lead negotiators, Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. Ron Mariano, confirmed in a statement Tuesday night they had made progress on the health care bill, two weeks before the end of the legislative session. The bill tackles a series of long-standing issues about telehealth coverage and scope of practice for nurse practitioners and optometrists, while expanding access to affordable COVID-19 treatment and testing, lawmakers say.

“I think we’ve shown that we’ve taken lessons learned and turned them into making our health care system better for everybody,” Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, said in an interview Tuesday night.

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‘Time is of the essence here’: High-risk groups await state vaccine plan

With the first COVID-19 vaccines on track to arrive in Massachusetts in less than two weeks, thegroups most vulnerable to the deadly virus — from front-line health workers to residents of hard-hit communities — are awaiting thestate’s plan for allocating the initial doses in what’s shaping up as the largest vaccination program in history.

The distribution plan, which eventually could involve the vast majority of the nearly 7 million state residents, came into sharper focus after a meeting Tuesday of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel that’s preparing a national vaccine distribution framework. That was to be followed by a Tuesday evening meeting of Baker’s vaccine advisory group, which will recommend who in the state will get the vaccines first. The governor’s plan is expected to follow that recommendation.

While the precise “phasing” has yet to be determined, “we’re going to work hard to stay in sync with the CDC,” said state Senator Cindy Friedman of Arlington, a member of the state advisory group.

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Study Details Lives And Money Saved By Supervised Drug Consumption

Adding supervised consumption of drugs to a needle exchange program in Boston would save three to four lives a year within the area around the site and a little more than $4 million. The findings were from Institute Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a national group that compares the benefits and cost-effectiveness of medical treatments.

2019 report from a state commission recommended that Massachusetts test the idea with a supervision consumption pilot. But bills that would make that happen have died in the Legislature. State Sen. Cindy Friedman, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, said the ICER report findings will renew the debate.

“It just will double our efforts next year, and this is enormously helpful in making safe injection facilities a possibility in the commonwealth,” Friedman said.

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COVID-19 vaccine advisory group member: ‘We need to be ready’

On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker’s office announced the formation of a 17-member COVID-19 vaccine advisory group to help advise the state moving forward.

The group isn’t just comprised of medical professionals, infectious disease experts and community leaders. There are also two legislators on the committee who are looking into any state laws or regulations that could potentially stand in the way of an effective rollout in Massachusetts.

“I will be focused on anything that may be a barrier statutorily or through regulations that may prevent an efficient and effective rollout,” said Massachusetts State Sen. Cindy Friedman, who’s one of the 17 members. “If there’s any work we have to do that the legislature can support, we’re here to do that.”

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Telehealth, COVID-19 Response Command Center key factors in combatting outbreak in Massachusetts, officials say

As the coronavirus pandemic ramped up across the United States early in 2020, Massachusetts officials began to implement a variety of measures aimed at staving off transmission of the viral respiratory infection and protecting the public.

Having the command center was just critical, just to have not only a central place, but a single person,” Friedman said. “I don’t wish that job on anyone, but that was so critical, because there was a place where we could at least centralize information and feel like we were getting information back forth.”

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Friedman Secures $2.5 Million For Burlington Transportation

Senator Cindy F. Friedman(D-Arlington) recently joined her colleagues in voting on legislation to jumpstart investment in transportation infrastructure and make the Commonwealth’s transportation system more reliable and accessible to residents. The bill includes $2.5 million Friedman fought for to support roadway and sidewalk reconstruction and traffic safety improvements in the Town of Burlington.

“This bond bill allows our cities and towns to invest in local transportation projects that will enhance our infrastructure while creating much-needed jobs during this time of financial hardship,” said Senator Friedman. “I’m pleased that I was able to secure vital investments for our community, paving the way for a more modernized transportation infrastructure that works for everyone.”

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Sen. Cindy Friedman responds to Woburn Pride flag incident

Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, who represents the city of Woburn, released the following statement on June 30 after someone tore down the Pride flag in Woburn Common:

“I’m deeply disappointed and saddened to hear that someone tore down the Pride flag in Woburn — this is a hateful act that is simply not representative of who we are as a community. Despite this, members of our community stepped up and raised a new Pride flag today, and I couldn’t be more proud of their efforts.

The Pride flag is for everyone — it symbolizes safety, unity, inclusiveness and love for all, and sends the message that “all are welcome here” no matter your sexual identity, gender, race, ethnicity, religion or background. All who live in and visit our district should always feel safe and welcome to be who they are and love who they want to love.”

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COVID-19 testing must become more accessible, experts say

Public health experts argued Monday that Massachusetts needs to make universal COVID-19 testing available to reduce the outbreak’s disproportionate impact on low-income and nonwhite communities, and the Baker administration believes it can respond best with a more targeted approach.

After several local and regional health officials told a Senate panel they want more funding to be directed to health boards, Sen. Cindy Friedmanasked what else besides money they needed to better protect the state’s residents. Three speakers in a row all offered similar responses: Testing needs to be far more accessible than it currently is, and at no cost.

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