July 20, 2020
To the Honorable Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee on Public Health
The purpose of the recently passed law, Acts (2020) Chapter 93, is to protect the public health.
As tenants in public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled people, we are highly vulnerable to infection and severe outcomes. Only good current information, openly and transparently available, can alert us and the public to a local danger and enable us to make renewed efforts at personal and community protection. Our housing providers in too many cases simply do not care to do their part, and with information we can hold them accountable.
The Governor is voiding provisions of that act of the Legislature which he had signed into law on June 7, 2020 by failing to implement certain provisions in a timely fashion. The law mandated the Department of Public Health to collect and publish data on infections and deaths from COVID-19 in a timely and transparent fashion covering "elder care facilities," defined in that act to include
"any residential premises available for lease by elderly or disabled individuals that is financed or subsidized in whole or in part by state or federal housing programs established primarily to furnish housing rather than housing and personal services, as set forth in a listing established by the secretary of elder affairs..."
This clearly mandates coverage of COVID-19 illness and deaths related to residents and staff of public and subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled. This covers 92,000 units in 1,400 housing developments statewide.
Even in the latest release of data, six weeks after the passage of Acts (2020) Chapter 93, there is not even a place holder for data on infections and deaths in public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled persons in "elder care facilities" consisting of public and subsidized housing. And nothing is included on the COVID-19 Daily Dashboard or the COVID-19 Weekly Public Health Report. Nor is such data included in Chapter 93 Elder Facilities Daily Report (download)
In a new bill, S2753 An Act to Ensure the Collection of COVID-19 Data, the Governor has proposed to relieve providers of public and subsidized housing from the reporting and communication obligations just enacted by Acts (2020) Chapter 93. This proposed change in the law would make it difficult for landlords, tenants, their families, or the public to be aware of the existence of a danger, and tend to prevent timely interventions. However, that bill has not been acted on by the Legislature.
We share your concern as reported by Shira Schoenberg in Commonwealth Magazine about the failure of the administration to report COVID-19 information for senior and disabled housing, reporting which is required by Acts (2020) Chapter 93.
We support your vigorous efforts to assure that the administration will implement the law.
While the reporting requirement in Acts (2020) Chapter 93 Section I, (6)(7) may be inappropriate for management—they should have a role, at the very least, to be aware of infection, to take every step to support the infected individuals, and to make every effort to limit further spread. Public health officials can also make information available to the public and tenants regarding infections or deaths due to COVID-19 in any specific facility, but the housing provider is better able to inform their staff and tenants.
And some housing providers would like to be able to use information about a specific case to provide supportive services.
Therefore, we propose:
- A) to retain the role of "elder care facilities" to include providers of housing for elderly and disabled; by keeping the present definitions in Section I, (6) and (7);
- B) to relieve those providers of the reporting requirement in Section 1, (b). But they would still be required to distribute information to tenants and families as they receive it from the Department of Public Health.
- C) We believe under this law the Department of Public Health would not make publicly available identifications of specific individuals. It seems necessary only to identify the facility where there is an illness or death related to COVID-19.
- D) Where appropriate, for a housing provider to be informed about the identity of any individual with diagnosed or suspected infection, solely in order to enable the effective provision of supportive services.
- E) All reliable information about COVID-19 infections and deaths related to tenants or staff in elder facilities including public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled should be reported to the Department of Public Health. The sources will include reports from physicians, hospitals, testing programs, coroners, and others with professional responsibilities. This information should be made available in the same way that the Chapter 93 law mandates, with identification of the housing facility.
COVID-19 is a killer, the purpose of the law is to protect the public health. We, the elderly and disabled are a highly vulnerable part of the public, therefore this potentially lifesaving information is essential for our protection.
Lynn Costello, Co-founder of the Lowell Anti-Bullying Coalition, said, "Those with COVID-19 need to be looked after by the community, and they should not be bullied and targeted for being sick. I also think that management needs to be pro-active in keeping an elderly and disabled population as safe as they can as far as it is in their power to do so."
Thank you for your consideration.
Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition, Tenant in HUD-subsidized housing
Bonny Zeh, Co-founder, Stop Bullying Coalition,
Tenant in Somerville HUD-subsidized
Lynn Costello, Co-founder of Lowell Anti-Bullying Coalition, Tenant in Lowell Public Housing
Pamela Goodwin, Tenant in Greenfield HUD- subsidized
Lorraine Lavoie, Tenant in HUD-subsidized, Waltham
Lori Bermani, Tenant in Salem Public Housing
Note: This letter includes our testimony submitted on June 15 2020 to the Joint Committee on Public Health, and followup letters on July 2 and July 10. It has been edited for clarity and a paragraph E) has been added under our proposals to better state what we seek.