Editorial Roundup: New England

Boston Globe. October 1, 2021.

Editorial: Diverse public boards are better public boards

Massachusetts has to get its own house in order before it starts tinkering with corporate boards.

Women may “hold up half the sky,” as the old Chinese proverb goes, but here in Massachusetts, when it comes to sitting on the state’s most important public boards and commissions in numbers equal to men, they are conspicuously absent.

For politicians here who like to lecture corporate boards about their lack of diversity — and they wouldn’t be wrong about that — doing the right thing in the public sector can and should be much easier. And the government ought to set an example for the private sector, demonstrating that gender and racial equity makes for good governance.

Pending legislation is aimed at forcing Massachusetts public officials to do just that — to bring gender and racial equity to state boards and to at long last report publicly on the demographic makeup of those boards. It would be an essential first step in ensuring fairness in the hiring, policy, and decision-making of those boards.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in human talent, and our pipelines are replete with women and people of color ready to serve,” said a 2019 “Women’s Power Gap” study issued by the Eos Foundation. “Yet this data shows we have a long way to go to reach gender parity and proportionate representation of people of color on our state boards and commissions, particularly among powerful leadership positions.”

The study focused on the 50 most prominent state boards and commissions — permanent parts of the governing landscape like the Massport board, the Health Connector, and the University of Massachusetts board of trustees. In 2019, 34 of those boards had fewer than 50% female members. An updated study completed in 2021 still found 32 boards under the 50% mark. Some 51.5% of the state’s population is female.

Researchers were frustrated by a nearly complete lack of publicly available data on racial and ethnic diversity, and their request to the governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions for self-reported data was denied, they noted in the report.

The March 2021 numbers — again based on the Eos Foundation’s own reporting — found the number of female board chairs had increased from 17 (of the 50 boards) to 22; three of those chairs were women of color. The number of men of color chairing those boards remained at two.

Representative Patricia Haddad, who cosponsored legislation with Senator Jason Lewis to require more diversity and gender parity on those permanent boards and commissions, told lawmakers at a hearing on her bill that the more recent Eos study grew out of their earlier finding that “higher education (in Massachusetts) was not diverse at all.”

“We had few women who were chancellors, and we had very few women who were board members,” Haddad said. “But now we’ve grown to realize that this is true of all the boards and commissions that are appointed by anybody in the administration and among constitutional officers.”

Even today, according to Eos’s 2021 numbers, only five of the UMass Board of Trustees’ 17 nonstudent members are women. (Five trustees are people of color.)

In fact, the study also found that women were particularly scarce on state boards dealing with business and technology. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has 29% female board members; the Health Policy Commission, 27%; the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation board, 21%.

The Haddad-Lewis bill provides that no one shall be appointed or reappointed to any of the boards and commissions in question “if that appointment or reappointment would cause the number of members of the board or commission of one gender to be greater than one-half the membership.” It doesn’t set quotas for racial and ethnic minorities but does stipulate they must “reflect the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in the general population.” And since some board appointments have multiple appointing authorities — like one appointee from the governor, one from the attorney general, and another by the treasurer — it wisely urges they consult with one another with diversity in mind.

Municipal boards are excluded, and there is an exemption for commissions whose “core mission” is to “enhance opportunities” for a specific race, gender, or ethnicity. And quite importantly, it mandates the collection of demographic data on all public board and commission applicants and appointees and an annual report on both by the governor’s office.

The lack of current available data is, frankly, shameful.

Good governance starts at the board level — a lesson painfully learned when things go wrong in either the private or the public sector. A more diverse board can help diversify hiring and guard against biases both conscious and unconscious. Boards composed of people with distinct experiences and backgrounds can also improve an organization’s ability to anticipate new challenges and opportunities, and solve problems. Public boards in Massachusetts should be a model for what equitable government looks like and what better board leadership looks like, too.

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Rutland Herald. September 1, 2021.

Editorial: Name game

When it comes to the board of trustees of the Vermont State Colleges System deciding that the name Vermont State University should now represent Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College, an adage comes to mind: “It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Former VSCS chancellor Jeb Spaulding was eviscerated for proposing a merger of the state colleges, forcing him to resign. Now, we are just going to keep on rolling with consolidation, this time with an eye toward branding.

Except that Castleton was doing just fine without the merger. And for all intents and purposes, this feels like another example of Rutland County getting looked down upon, or getting the short end of the stick from Montpelier.

“The establishment of the name — Vermont State University — is a pivotal point in the creation of our new and innovative university,” stated board of trustees Chair Lynn Dickinson. “Vermont State University capitalizes on the nationally and internationally known Vermont brand and highlights our connection to the state as a public higher education institution. In establishing the identity of the new institution, this is the first step. We are looking forward to the continued work over the next several months on the additional critical elements of the brand identity of Vermont State University: the mission, vision, brand identity and academic structure.”

Except that nobody asked for this. Nobody around the Castleton campus thinks this is a stroke of academic brilliance. Castleton University and Northern Vermont University were doing fine with the rollout of their new brands — both of which happened during the past few years. What about that time and money that the new VSU is now going to spend again on another branding and marketing campaign? The arrogance of this move overlooks all of the work the schools have done to find their brand and messaging. Castleton, especially, has been standing up (and out) as the flagship.

And yet...

“(T)he VSCS board of trustees is committed to fully unifying Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College. With the guidance, support, and financial investment of the State, the board of trustees plans to accomplish a unification that expands opportunities for learners throughout the state, restructures the system for financial success, and retains our current campus locations and thus our commitment to serving Vermont’s rural communities,” Dickinson was quoted as saying in a release issued at 9 p.m. Wednesday evening, minutes after the board unanimously voted to accept the name change.

There is one point the trustees keep returning to: They are tasked with keeping this system alive and providing public higher education to Vermonters. They believe creating a unified system with a unified brand is the best way to do that. They may believe that is the best approach for right now, but clearly the message — from alumni and even current staff and faculty and more than a few students — is that the board and Chancellor Sophie Zdatny are deaf to what is being said against the fast-moving merger.

(To his credit, Trustee David Silverman was the only one who showed any kind of acknowledgement that people’s opposition is valid and said he hoped that as branding is developed there will ways to give each campus its own identity.)

Everyone keeps saying that this is the first step. We see it as the first misstep.

Zdatny noted on Wednesday night, “One key takeaway from the research done is the importance of innovation and technology with a focus on the future. … Another is how embedded Vermont is in our collective identity through our workforce partners, applied learning opportunities, our local communities and alumni, and connection to the state. The importance of the word ‘University’ to convey the variety, strength, quality and prestige of the education provided was another key indicator. Vermont State University gives us incredible flexibility in bringing the brand identity of the new university to life. In the coming months, we will be continuing the exciting work of establishing a unified brand identity for Vermont State University.”

There is a disregard for what is already in place; a chorus of voices in opposition; and another big step toward homogenizing the Vermont State Colleges System.

Hopefully, “fixing” the fiscal and enrollment problems the system faces by rebranding at this “pivotal point” doesn’t just dilute the uniqueness of these schools, their unique programs and their talented staffs.

That would be very unfortunate.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. October 1, 2021.

Editorial: Please take your seats - COVID intermission over at CT theaters

Let’s not wait for the ending to applaud the directors of Connecticut’s largest theaters.

They are showing creativity and initiative by teaming up to promote the return of live performances. For now, that means pooling marketing and public relations resources. We look forward to seeing what they can accomplish to propel these 100-plus-year-old institutions and showcase diverse performers through the rest of this century.

The new Connecticut Performing Arts Centers Coalition is a collaboration between the New Haven’s Shubert Theatre, Stamford’s Palace, Hartford’s Bushnell, the Warner in Torrington, New London’s Garde Arts Center and Waterbury’s Palace.

Like many good notions, the move was born of necessity. Connecticut’s ghost lights have glowed in isolation for long enough. As marquees stayed blank and theater seats remained unoccupied, the fabled ghost lights were the sole illumination in theaters throughout COVID-19.

This pandemic has had enough second and third acts. These theaters can’t wait for the curtain to close for good on the coronavirus. By the end of 2020, ticket sales reportedly dropped off by more than 96 percent. Grants from the COVID Relief Fund for the Arts served as a reprieve, but it has taken another nine months to welcome back theatergoers.

A new website — CTArtsCoalition.org — promotes upcoming performances as the theaters re-open. It also reinforces protocols for the near future, which usually require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result, along with masks.

The immediate lineups have some anticipated limitations. There is reason to proceed with caution. Broadway reopened tentatively over the summer with essentially a one-man show (“Springsteen on Broadway”) and experienced a COVID setback this week as the Wednesday performance of “Aladdin” was canceled a day after the Disney musical reopened.

So the fall and winter schedules in these six theaters lean heavily on shows that are relatively easy to host. That means a slate of single-performer productions, such as writer David Sedaris at the Bushnell and Chazz Palminteri’s “A Bronx Tale” at the Garde.

The schedules are also top-heavy in tributes to classic rock bands such as Fleetwood Mac, the Bee Gees, Foreigner and the Grateful Dead (and that’s just in Stamford). Some original stars are promised as well, including Jadakiss, Chicago, Yo-Yo-Ma and Chilean songwriter Myriam Hernandez.

There are also musicals, including “Anastasia,” (at the Shubert and in Waterbury) and “Rent” (the Bushnell).

In announcing the coalition, Bushnell CEO David Fay wisely stressed the importance of theaters as the hub of thriving urban centers.

These enchanting theaters are stars in their own right. The coalition would do well to put a spotlight on their individual histories. The Shubert, for example, was once famed for staging Broadway tryouts for legendary shows such as “South Pacific” and “My Fair Lady.” And Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers and other iconic performers once worked Connecticut boards.

There is no better way to emotionally heal from social isolation than to sing, cry and laugh together in a darkened theater.

The intermission is over. Welcome back to your seats.

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Barre-Montepelier Times Argus. September 27, 2021.

Editorial: Rock and a hard place

We may be days away from finding ourselves between a rock and a hard place. We need nurses. And not just here. It’s a nationwide problem.

Al Tomkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies has been tracking print coverage of COVID. According to his blog on Monday, the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living say:

— Nearly every nursing home (99%) and assisted living community (96%) in the U.S. is facing a staffing shortage.

— Nearly every nursing home and assisted living community is asking staff to work overtime or extra shifts. 58% of nursing homes are limiting new admissions due to staffing shortages.

— And 45% of nursing homes say vaccine requirements make recruiting difficult.

Add to the mix that several states set Monday as the deadline for which health care workers face termination if they don’t have at least one COVID-19 shot.

According to Tomkins, as of Friday, about 81% of the health care workers met the vaccine deadline, but thousands of workers are on the edge of losing their jobs.

That pressure has many health care workers throwing up their hands.

Tomkins notes that the The Philadelphia Inquirer has a compelling essay from two veteran nurses who say in decades on the job, they have never seen turnover like they see now.

One of the nurses, Peg Lawson, writes, “I see someone quit every day.”

On Sept. 23, Maureen May, wrote for The Inquirer, “Nurses quite literally have their fingers on the pulse of patient care — and we’re sounding the alarm: There are not nearly enough of us at the bedside. What this means in ERs and on hospital floors in our area, throughout the state and even across the nation, is that nurses, already physically and emotionally drained from a year and a half on the front lines of a pandemic, are being asked to care for more patients than is safe for either the patient or the nurse. … When this happens — when nurses are routinely required to care for more patients than is safe — it’s called chronic nurse short-staffing, and care suffers. Nurses suffer, too.”

Two weeks ago, VTDigger and the Valley News reported that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, the largest hospital in our region, was seeking to fill about 730 positions in Lebanon alone, according to its website. According to the report, “Smaller hospitals around the Upper Valley also are seeking dozens of workers. The shortage is especially acute in nursing but also is apparent in sectors such as food and janitorial services, and in various technology positions.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press on Monday reported that hospitals and nursing homes around the U.S. are bracing for worsening staff shortages as state deadlines arrive for health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

With ultimatums taking effect this week in states like New York, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the fear is that some employees will quit or let themselves be fired or suspended rather than get the vaccine, the AP wrote.

“How this is going to play out, we don’t know. We are concerned about how it will exacerbate an already quite serious staffing problem,” said California Hospital Association spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea, adding that the organization “absolutely” supports the state’s vaccination requirement.

New York health care employees had until the end of the day Monday to get at least one dose, but some hospitals had already begun suspending or otherwise taking action against holdouts.

According to the AP, some New York hospitals prepared contingency plans that included cutting back on noncritical services and limiting nursing home admissions. The governor also drew up plans to summon help from National Guard members with medical training, retirees or vaccinated workers from outside the state.

About a dozen states have vaccination mandates covering health care workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities or both. Some allow exemptions on medical or religious grounds, but those employees often must submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

States that have set such requirements tend to have high vaccination rates already. The highest rates are concentrated in the Northeast, the lowest ones in the South and Midwest.

The Biden administration is requiring the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid to be fully vaccinated under a rule still being developed.

That has worried some hospital officials, particularly in rural communities where vaccination rates tend to be lower. That is little consolation when the shortage is a real thing right now.

If health care professionals say “no,” the bigger question becomes: What does this part of the pandemic look like with a severe shortage of hospital workers?

We may be about to find out.

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Bangor Daily News. October 1, 2021.

Editorial: Every Mainer should have easy access to COVID-19 testing

It should come as little surprise that testing remains an important part of Maine and the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even with the widespread availability and continued uptake of vaccines. Very smart people have been saying for a very long time this would be the case.

And yet, we’ve seen recently how the supply chain and laboratory capacity have struggled to keep up with the demand for tests and the volume of tests conducted amid the delta variant surge.

In early September, the principal at Calais Elementary School essentially had to set up her own clinic (with help from the state) in order to test students and others who may have been exposed to the virus related to a summer day camp. There wasn’t anywhere else in Washington County where a large number of people could get tested for free on short notice.

It was an inspiring example of dedication from Principal Sue Carter. But it shouldn’t have been necessary.

“I am not a medical professional,” Carter said at the time “None of this should be my responsibility.”

Also in early September, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had to increase staff to help work through a large backlog for reviewing and reporting positive tests.

“Access to testing remains a challenge across the country and across the state,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Sept. 7. “Testing supplies across the country and the state are strained right now.”

Testing challenges remain weeks later (not that they can be resolved overnight). A Sept. 27 BDN headline, “Many find it’s nearly impossible to get quick COVID test results in the Bangor area” certainly doesn’t generate confidence that the issues surrounding testing capacity, speed and availability have been resolved.

On Wednesday at the Maine CDC’s weekly media briefing, Shah said the amount of PCR testing, tests that are highly sensitive and generally sent to laboratories, has increased by 19% over the past two weeks. He also discussed the recent availability issues involving faster but potentially less accurate rapid antigen testing. While there had been a concern that this crunch could lead to Maine schools getting short changed on rapid tests, Shah said that has not happened.

“We’ve been working with the manufacturer to make sure we can secure even more of those tests,” Shah said. “And again, I don’t want to get ahead of myself yet because I want to shore up a couple things. But we’ve been working really diligently with our colleagues and other departments across the state to get more of those tests here in the state, for use not just in schools, but in places like pharmacies.”

On Thursday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services officially announced measures to expand COVID-19 testing options in the state, including pooled testing for children and staff at child care facilities and the addition of PCR testing at Walgreens across Maine. These are steps in the right direction in what needs to be a continued push to make testing readily available to people throughout Maine and the country.

We’ve seen how testing manufacturers scaled down production only to turn around and prepare to ramp it back up again in response to demand.

Call us economically naive, but we have to think that deferring strictly to market forces for something like COVID-19 testing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a great approach. So we’re hopeful that President Joe Biden’s recent re-invocation of the Defense Production Act to bolster testing availability will actually have that intended result. But we share concerns that the testing component of his vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees could further challenge an already strained testing supply.

With winter (and more indoor activity) on the horizon, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure COVID-19 tests are a readily available tool in the continued pandemic — in all areas, rural and urban.

The recent testing situation, with its backlogs, delayed results, difficulty finding appointment slots, empty shelves and prioritizations in who can be tested at certain locations, has been unacceptable. It should not have gotten to this point. Federal and state officials, working with manufacturers and health care providers, should do everything they can to keep digging out of this situation and prevent it from getting to this point again.

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