Opinion

Healthcare Heroes Are Everywhere

There’s no set timeframe to be a hero. It’s more about taking advantage of opportunities that emerge. And that can happen quickly, or over a lifetime.

One of the goals of the Healthcare Heroes recognition program, now in its third year, was to create a vehicle for relaying some of the many amazing stories taking place within the region’s healthcare industry, stories that convey energy, compassion, innovation, forward thinking, and, above all, passion — for finding ways to improve quality of life for those that these people and organizations touch every day.

And, as noted, this heroism takes a lot of different forms.

Take Katherine Wilson, who has spent the past three decades building and shaping Behavioral Health Network into a $115 million network that continues to expand and find new ways to provide care and support to those in need. This honor goes far beyond the vast portfolio of programs her agency offers. It’s also about a lifetime spent advocating for those with mental illness, substance-abuse issues, or development disabilities, anticipating and then meeting their needs.

Linda Uguccioni, on the other hand, has been with executive director at Linda Manor Assisted Living in Northampton for only four years. But in that time, she’s put it on the fast track when it comes to growth, vibrancy, and recognition, doubling occupancy from 40 to more than 80, with a waiting list. She does so with a lead-by-example style and an ability to make each and every team member feel not only valued but a key contributor to the health and well-being of all residents.

Frank Robinson, like Wilson, has been working for a healthier community for much of the past four decades, developing and growing initiatives in realms ranging from children’s oral health to asthma; from food insecurity to sexual health; from health education to overall population health. As he turns 70 this month, he has no plans to slow down, citing both a passion for his work and the fact that so much of that work remains to be done.

Meanwhile, it’s been less than two years since Tara Ferrante, director of the Holyoke Outpatient Clinic at ServiceNet, launched the agency’s OCD and Hoarding Disorder Program, leading a team of clinicians who are seeing progress every day in helping people escape the shackles of these often-debilitating conditions — and overcoming the social stigma that accompanies them.

The fact is, a Healthcare Hero can emerge quickly, or he or she can become part of the fabric of the community for a very long time. The common thread is how they make a positive, palpable impact on lives in Western Mass.

We launched Healthcare Heroes in 2017 because it had become clear over the years that a distinct, prestigious award program was needed in the region’s healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of stories to tell — stories that are just beginning, or gaining mid-career momentum, or starting to wind down after setting the stage for others to continue the fight for this region’s health and well-being.

We were right — as this year’s class of Healthcare Heroes continues to make clear. Enjoy their stories, be inspired, and realize that we could honor far, far more heroes if we had the time and space. They’re all around you — and we have a lot more stories to write in the coming years. –


Medicare for All Is Not the Answer

By STEVE WALSH

As the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Assoc. (MHA) and its member hospitals and healthcare systems continue to work with policymakers to improve affordability and enhance high-quality patient care, we strongly support the tenets of universal healthcare coverage and maintaining a robust system of patient access. However, we are opposed to ‘Medicare for All,’ as it could endanger the collective success we have achieved in Massachusetts and inhibit access and harm healthcare quality across the country.

The Commonwealth serves as a paragon of healthcare reform and universal access. The combination of our statewide policies and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have helped to secure health insurance coverage for 97% of Massachusetts residents — the highest rate in the nation. At the same time, our costs are growing more slowly than the national average, and we are consistently beating ambitious cost-containment benchmarks while offering some of the highest levels of quality patient care in the U.S. Coverage expansion has allowed us to direct our focus on equitable access, population health management, and other targeted investments in social determinants of health that lead to improved quality of life and better outcomes.

The MHA urges policymakers to prioritize preserving and expanding the gains that have been made nationally through the ACA. Despite delivering promising results in many states, not every area of the country has been able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this comprehensive package of policies. Even more disturbing, efforts to dismantle the ACA continue through funding cutbacks coupled with ongoing legal and regulatory challenges. Proposals such as Medicare for All carry significant risk for our complex system of patients, healthcare providers, and taxpayers. We should instead focus our attention on stabilizing the ACA.

Medicare is an essential program for seniors and disabled Americans. It is successful because we all depend on it — every elder American is eligible, regardless of their financial and health status. Because of its importance, its support remains a national priority. The long term effect of Medicare expansion comes with the risk of an underfunded program, resulting in a two-tiered system of care — middle-class and low-income elders would struggle with limited coverage, while wealthy Americans could supplement the available benefit.

We fear that the many proposals grouped under the Medicare for All banner put the viability of the program — which is already strained — directly at risk. These proposals could also endanger providers’ ability to continue offering services, thereby endangering patients’ access to care.

Without doubt, more work needs to be done to improve care delivery, close the coverage and access gaps that remain, and make healthcare more affordable and sustainable. But Medicare for All is not the answer.

As we’ve learned in Massachusetts, there is no single solution that will cure the many challenges of our complex healthcare system. Instead, we should focus on securing and building upon all that is currently working. Let’s defeat the challenges to the ACA, make the necessary refinements, and secure its full implementation nationwide. –

Steve Walsh is president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Assoc.

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