Where mental illness and criminal justice meet

In its fourth year, the commission plans to implement a pilot restoration center in Middlesex County — a facility where law enforcement could send people with substance use or mental health disorders for appropriate treatment. “What happens when they’re in the facility, that’s what this pilot is for,” said Senator Cindy Friedman, who’s part of the commission. “It’s not just getting someone to a place. At the other end there has to be someone who knows what to do and can deal with this person who is ill and not criminal. Right there, it keeps them one step away from the criminal justice system,” she said. The restoration center would also take walk-ins.

As state budget negotiations are underway in conference committee, it is critical that the Legislature funds the center at a minimum of $1 million, which is what the commission expects to get in the budget. Also crucial is for lawmakers to keep a trust fund, included in the Senate budget proposal, that would allow for other sources of revenue to fund the restoration center pilot. “That would be money from foundation grants, federal earmarks, and/or the [American Rescue Plan] act,” said Friedman.

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Letters: Inequities in state’s vaccine rollout are unacceptable

I read Emma Platoff’s article in the Globe Wednesday morning in which I was quoted (“Success of rollout quiets Baker’s critics,” Page A1, May 12). My comment about our state’s being “in a decent place” was in reference to the total number of residents who have been vaccinated. I’m disappointed that readers could be left with the implication that I’m satisfied with the fact that only 37 percent of Black residents and 33 percent of Hispanic residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. I am most certainly not. I do not think that’s “decent.” 

We need to devote even more energy and resources to connect with those communities where there is vaccine hesitancy or barriers to vaccine access. To be clear, the numbers we are seeing in communities of color are nothing to be satisfied about. 

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In 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker formed a statewide commission to review the Section 35 process. A year later, state lawmakers Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. Ruth Balser pushed two similar bills aimed at banning the use of jails and prisons altogether for civil commitments of men. Legislators say those bills would have finished a job the state started in 2016 when it stopped sending women to jail for civil commitments. 

Despite broad support, though, neither bill passed the last legislative session. One died in the Senate Committee on Health Care and Financing, while the other was discharged to the Committee on Senate Rules in August.  

Balser reintroduced her legislation on Jan 26. Friedman may soon do the same in the state senate. 

“Our goal is to not only bring uniformity to the law, but to treat people with [substance use disorder] as patients rather than as criminals,” Friedman wrote in a statement for this article. “We can help accomplish this goal by passing this bill.”

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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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