News At Council’s annual convention, Sudders recognizes efforts of human services providers

Many thanks to the State House News Service for their thorough and comprehensive coverage of the Council’s SpeakUp4Equity Convention and Expo this week:

OCT. 27, 2020…..One of the most difficult steps for Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders amid the deadly and harrowing pandemic was deciding to close assisted living facilities to all outside visitors.

In a pre-recorded speech that touched on health care equity, public-private partnerships and personal protective equipment, Sudders pointed to the March 15 order from Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel banning all visitation as an especially challenging step.

Restrictions remained in place for several months, relaxing in stages in June and July as the state proceeded with reopening. Given the pandemic’s massive toll on long-term care residents — who represent about two-thirds of total deaths linked to COVID-19 in Massachusetts — the sacrifice was necessary, Sudders said.

“Ending that familial connectedness for individuals from their families, as a social worker, was very difficult, to say, ‘right now, it’s about safety,'” Sudders told human services workers at the Providers’ Council’s annual convention. “I am grateful to all of you to find the path to ensure that visitation and visits can happen in a safe and meaningful way.”

More than seven months into the public health state of emergency, Massachusetts remains in the throes of a deadly pandemic, cases are rising, and there’s growing talk about the possible return of some restrictions.

Sudders praised service providers for a “nimble” response and for their willingness to adapt to the challenge, even as understanding of the highly infectious virus and the best ways to control it has evolved.

She touted the state’s testing infrastructure, saying it was essentially nonexistent in February and today has lab capacity to process up to 100,000 tests per day. Massachusetts also has a better supply chain to acquire personal protective equipment, plus enough PPE stockpiled to cover health care workers through 2021, Sudders added.

“It is exhausting and wearying, but we get strength from the community of providers working together with the administration,” Sudders said.

The secretary highlighted health care equity, a focus of this year’s convention, as a long-standing issue thrust further into the spotlight by the events of the year.

Communities of color have been hit hardest by the pandemic, with higher case, hospitalization and death rates in particular among Black and Latinx residents — many of whom faced more exposure as essential employees.

Sudders also cited the alleged police murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minnesota, on May 25 as prompting a “harsh reckoning” that “uncovered years and years and years of truth” about structural racism.

“It is an inflection point for all of us to pause, to learn, to listen, truly listen to one another, and find the ways to deal with structural racism once and for all,” she said. “If the pandemic has helped expose the structural racism, it is a fact that individuals have been murdered for no reasons other than the color of their skin.”

She said that she and Gov. Charlie Baker are committed to ensuring that its actions flow through “the lens of equity, the lens of justice,” even if government officials, community leaders and others need to overcome disagreements.

“Let us take this moment, take this pain, into a new reality,” Sudders said.

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