Lori Abrams Berry

Warren: Trump is trying to bully mayors

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tours the Lynn Community Health Center.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — As President Donald Trump signed a new version of his controversial travel ban Monday while Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in town, the CEO of the Lynn Community Health Center said she fears for her staff’s family and patients who have uncertain immigration status.

“I’ve never been so upset about anything in my life,” said Lori Abrams Berry. “There’s a level of tension that everyone in this health center and in Lynn is feeling about this.”

Berry made her remarks during a roundtable conversation with Warren, local officials and clinic executives. The liberal Democratic senator toured the facility to learn how doctors are integrating services among specialties as well as with other health care providers.

Warren used portions of her 90 minutes in Lynn to unleash on Trump’s promise to withhold funds to so-called sanctuary cities, communities including Boston and Somerville, whose police forces refuse to assist federal immigration agents or inquire about immigration status.

“The Trump administration is trying to bully local mayors into changing policing so they’ll double down, so it’s no longer just the federal agents doing this,” she said. “That’s clearly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot condition grants in one area on compliance in other areas … I met with mayors last week who are prepared to go to court the minute federal dollars are withheld to sanctuary cities.”

Berry’s comments came after the television news crews exited the room.

“One of our board members’ brother-in-law got picked up and is in detention because he was stopped for a minor traffic violation and didn’t have a license,” she said. “All the agencies in Lynn are very concerned about this. We need a rapid response network so we can start to help families. We are starting to feel like we need to give people information on their rights.”

Hundreds of jobs coming to Medford

Trump’s latest executive order on immigration and refugees still restricts new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries and shuts down the nation’s refugee program.

The revised travel order leaves Iraq off the list of banned countries but still affects visitors from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.

Last month, in a speech to police chiefs, Trump asked for their help in identifying and deporting illegal immigrants.

“I want you to turn in the bad ones,” Trump said. “We’re going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We’re going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice, and we’re going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence.”

In a question and answer session with reporters following the tour, Warren said she recently met with Seema Verma, Trump’s pick to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Trump has said he favors restructuring funding for the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to the poor and disabled, through block grants.

“I made it clear that I will try to work with her if she is confirmed and do everything possible to keep our community health centers in Massachusetts fully supported, and that means not doing block grants,” she said. “If people need healthcare, we need to find the most effective and economical ways to do it, but make sure we are able to deliver healthcare. We don’t say: ‘You’ve met some arbitrary cap with the state of Massachusetts, and now you’re done.’”

On Trump’s accusation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York home, Warren dismissed the allegation.

“It’s becoming clearer every day that President Trump is failing and he knows it,” she said. “That’s what these wild accusations are about.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com. Material from Associated Press was used in this report.

Repeal of Affordable Care Act lamented in Lynn

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
State Senator Thomas M. McGee attended a meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton at Lynn Community Health Center to hear from constituents who are at risk by President Trump’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

By ADAM SWIFT

LYNNU.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) has been one of the most vocal national critics of President Trump’s new administration, making appearances on the cable networks and sparking debate across the country.

On Saturday morning, Moulton brought a local focus to a national issue, taking part in a roundtable on the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as Obamacare, at the Lynn Community Health Center.

“It’s an incredibly important issue in the community and in the country, as the Republicans in Washington intend to repeal the ACA but have nothing to replace it with,” said Moulton.

During the hour-long discussion, Moulton heard from about a dozen community members, Lynn Community Health Center staff, and local businesspeople about how they have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act and their fears if it is repealed.

The Lynn Community Health Center serves 39,000 people annually, according to Lori Abrams Berry, the center’s CEO. Before the ACA passed, 40 percent of those people had no insurance. Today, that number is under 15 percent, Berry said.

That increase in the number of patients who have insurance has a huge impact on the ability to run and fund the health center, Berry said.

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee noted how former Governor Mitt Romney laid the foundation for the ACA in Massachusetts.

“It was embraced by the governor at the time and it was not embraced by the Republicans down in Washington, which was pretty interesting,” said McGee. “They were the ones who came up with the mandate so we were able to pay for it. We were able to insure over 96 percent of the people in the Commonwealth, and our challenge with the ACA under attack is what’s it going to mean for what we’ve been able to do to keep the insurance that we have in Massachusetts.”

With a repeal, McGee said Massachusetts could be in line for losses of billions of dollars in health insurance costs. He said the state could be especially hard hit when it comes to emergency room costs.

“From the legislative perspective, we used to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the patients who didn’t have insurance who went to the emergency room,” McGee said. “All the hospitals were being inundated and we were really struggling with those costs, we were actually subsidizing those costs as a legislature and a Commonwealth into the hospitals that were giving that care. Obamacare has created a great opportunity to bring those costs down, bring people out of the emergency rooms, and find a better way to care for people.”

While the politics of the ACA was never far from everyone’s mind at the roundtable discussion, it was the personal stories that had the greatest emotional impact of the morning.

Deb Debski has been battling a rare autoimmune disease that was destroying her liver and needed a transplant in order to live. While she said she is doing well now, she was in the hospital earlier this week.

“I told my doctor that I had this discussion coming up and that he had to let me out,” Debski said. “I’m very thankful for the Affordable Care Act. I had $17,000 in medications during the past year, and I paid $75.59. These are medications that I need to take twice a day in order to live.”

Debski said she is extremely upset that the ACA could be repealed with nothing to take its place.

“It would be an incredible hardship to decide whether I can eat or take my medicine,” she said.

Moulton said that Democrats in Congress are open to changes in the ACA, and that he is open to changes in the ACA that could improve it.

“But, we can’t just throw it out and not have a replacement,” Moulton said. “That would be disastrous and you clearly heard that from so many people. We want to hear these stories because we care so much about you, we want to be able to say this to our Republican friends in Washington, but I think it is even more powerful when you convey it directly.”

Latham honored by health center

Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, is awarded the John S. Moran Award for Community Service by Lori Abrams Berry, executive director of Lynn Community Health Center. Photo by Paula Muller.

By Bridget Turcotte

 

NAHANT — Dr. Catherine Latham received the 2016 John S. Moran Award for Community Service at the Lynn Community Health Center’s annual meeting on Wednesday.

The award is named after the former executive editor of The Item. Among many things, Moran was a member of Lynn Community Health Center’s Board of Directors. He contributed a lot of time and expertise to support the center and the community.  

After he died in February of 1990, the board created the award in his memory and honors a worthy recipient each year.

To be eligible, a person should have strong ties to the city and advocate for a healthier Lynn community and health center. They should be someone who has shown leadership and made a difference for the community.

Latham, the superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, was chosen as this year’s honoree because of her work with providing children with proper healthcare.

There are 13 schools in the city with school-based health centers for student use, said Lori Abrams Berry, executive director of the LCHC.

“No one has made the commitment to providing health and mental health service more than Cathy Latham has,” Berry said. “She has been an enormous source of support for this program.”

Latham is a lifelong Lynn resident. She graduated from Lynn English High School, where she later taught math. Though gracious about receiving the award, she attributed the success of the program to the room full of health center employees.

“I do very little,” she said. “It’s you people, the Lynn Community Health Center and the wonderful folks who work there. I can want the world for our students, but without people like you, I couldn’t do it.”

The Lynn Community Health Center is a nonprofit that offers care to the community, regardless of ability to pay. It targets children and families, low-income, minorities, non-English speaking patients, teens and elderly.

More than 90 percent of the center’s patients live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More than 50 percent are best served in a language other than English, according to their website.

The health center recognized its long-standing employees individually.

Bob Dempkowski received the Andrea Gaulzetti Award for Excellence in Public Health, named after the health center’s chief of clinical operations who died in 2015.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Having a ball in downtown Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Amanda Khampharasavath serves up the ball.

By Gayla Cawley

LYNN — You can’t beat City Hall.

That’s what three teams learned when City Hall won the volleyball tournament on Thursday at Lynn Museum & Historical Society.

Lynn Community Health sponsors an annual event during National Health Center Week. Previous years have featured Zumba in Central Square and a flash mob.

“We’re raising awareness about the role community health centers play in our community,” said Lori Abrams Berry, executive director of Lynn Community Health Center.

The finals pitted City Hall against the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce. City employees squeaked by 22-21 and were awarded a basket of vegetables from the nearby Farmer’s Market. The other three teams had to share a basket of vegetables. To get to the championship, the city beat the Lynn Nonprofit Business Association in the first round, 20-17.

“We are the champions,” said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, who didn’t play but served as an honorary referee.

“I always knew we have great employees at City Hall, but I never knew how multi-talented they are,” she said.

Leslie Gould, CEO of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, and coach of the runner-up team, took the loss in stride.

“We put up a great fight,” she said.  

The host team had a rough outing, with the Lynn Community Health Center losing its first round match to the chamber, 29-13.

Berry said her team came back in the second half of the 12-minute contest, but was comforted by someone telling her, “you can’t save lives and save the game.”

“We do a great job of team-based care,” Berry said. “It’s just maybe team sports need a bit of work.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Moulton brings $325,000 to fight opiates in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Lori Abrams Berry, CEO of the Lynn Community Health Center, is congratulated by Rep Seth Moulton during a ceremony announcing federal grants for opiate addiction held at the North Shore Community Health Center in Salem on Thursday.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Community health centers are on the front lines for battling opioid addiction, an issue that has become a public health crisis.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton said the Lynn Community Health Center received a $325,000 grant to expand narcotics dependence treatment services. The Massachusetts Democrat delivered the good news at Salem’s North Shore Community Center, which received $352,083. The center also has locations in Gloucester and Peabody.

Nationwide, 271 health centers received cash from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat the problem.

Lori Abrams Berry, CEO of the Lynn Community Health Center, said she sees Lynn as the epicenter of drug addiction. Since March, 10 deaths and 63 overdoses have been reported to the Lynn Police Department. Last year, there were 54 deaths from opioid overdoses, up from 38 in 2014.

“We were already thinking it was a crisis,” Berry said. “It seems to be getting worse, not better. These funds really are a godsend.”

The funds will expand the number of patients the center can serve through its Integrated Primary Care, Behavioral Health and Addictions Treatment Program. Currently, she said, the center treats 375 people suffering from addiction. Of that number, 350 are being treated with Suboxone, a drug used to treat addiction, while the remaining 25 are being treated with Vivitrol, an alternative opioid blocker taken as a monthly injection.

Berry said the goal is to treat 1,000 patients suffering from addiction. She said the funds would also be used to hire more nurses and therapists.

Moulton said the opioid problem should be treated as a health crisis and should not be solved by putting addicts in prison.

“The opioid epidemic is cutting lives short, tearing families apart and draining the resources our law enforcement and health care professionals have to treat addiction,” he said.

Margaret Brennan, director of the North Shore Community Health Center, said their funds would be focused on Gloucester, which she said is one of the hardest hit communities in the state’s opioid epidemic.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Will PILOTs fly in Lynn?

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
A sweeping view of Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — When it comes to the contentious issue of whether nonprofits should contribute cash in lieu of taxes, many of the city’s power brokers are silent.

“The issue is not on our front burner,” said Leslie Gould, president and CEO of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, before she announced the interview “off the record.”

Lori Abrams Berry, executive director of the Lynn Community Health Center, a nonprofit that operates five facilities in the city, also shut down the conversation.

“I do not want to participate in that story,” she said. “It’s controversial, and I don’t particularly want to comment on it.

Deb Ansourlian, executive director of Girls Incorporated, was also reluctant to talk, saying she didn’t want to be quoted in a story about that issue.

Robert Norton, president and CEO of North Shore Medical Center, which includes Union Hospital, was unavailable for comment.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy did not return calls and through a spokeswoman referred questions to Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer.

Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef and a former chairman of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not surprised that no one wants to talk about it. “That issue is like the third rail in Lynn,” he said. “On one hand, nonprofits are struggling financially and it would be a hardship for them to come up with a payment to the city and any contribution would reduce services for residents.”

But others say Lynn has a limited amount of commercial real estate and some of it is being occupied by nonprofits who pay nothing in real estate taxes.

“If a PILOT is implemented, that’s a big chunk of revenue the city can receive, ”Nikolakopoulos said.

At issue is legislation on Beacon Hill that would give cities and towns the option to negotiate Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with landowning tax-exempt organizations. Under the terms of the bill, charities can make cash or in-kind contributions to communities instead of property taxes. Typically, communities like Boston, who have used PILOTs since 2012, ask for about 25 percent of what the tax bill would be.

In Lynn, the total assessed value of all real estate is $6.39 billion. Of that number, charities – excluding city and state buildings, schools and churches – comprise $108.7 million of it. If the charities were taxed at the commercial rate, it would provide $3.5 million in tax dollars. Should Lynn adopt a PILOT that asks for 25 percent of the assessed value, it would add $864,000 to the city’s $290 million budget.

The revenue-raising plan is based on the estimated cost of providing city services, including police and fire protection, snow removal, and emergency medical treatment, which account for about 25 percent of the city’s budget.

For example, Union Hospital’s property on Lynnfield Street is assessed at $18 million and would be taxed at $577,656 annually if it was a for-profit business. Under an agreement to pay 25 percent of that, the hospital’s contribution would be $144,414.

Boston, one of the first cities to launch a PILOT, has raised nearly $100 million since 2012. The initiative was launched by former City Councilor Stephen Murphy, who insisted that nonprofits pay their fair share. Former Mayor Thomas M. Menino convinced 49 nonprofits, which own property valued at $15 million or more, to contribute. 

“I certainly think it warrants a conversation,” said James Cowdell, executive director of the Economic Development & Industrial Corp. of Lynn. “A model with nonprofits of a certain size, that own their buildings, volunteering a sum that reflects the police, fire, and DPW portion of a standard commercial rate, at least merits consideration

 

But Lynn City Council President Dan Cahill said unlike Boston, Lynn lacks giant institutions with billion-dollar endowments such as Harvard University, Boston College and Boston University.

Cahill said targeted PILOTs work, such as the agreement that was struck with the Visiting Nurse Association when it built a new facility at 210 Market St. that is assessed at $4.4 million. In addition, deals were made with the Abbott House Nursing Home, which owns the property at 28 Essex St. that is assessed at $1.2 million; and the Raw Arts Works building in Central Square that is valued at $642,000. In total, they donate about $50,000 annually.

As far as implementing a broader program that would impact some or all of the city’s five dozen nonprofits, Cahill said that’s part a very large discussion that has not yet happened in the city.

“It makes sense for Boston’s nonprofits to pay because they have massive colleges and universities with billion-dollar endowments,” he said. “But in Lynn, our charities are considerably smaller and run on a shoestring budget.”

Mark Kennard, executive director of Project Cope, an affiliate of Bridgewell, a nonprofit that provides assistance to individuals with developmental and psychiatric disabilities at 22 Lynn locations, said the nonprofits are a vibrant sector of the city and make a huge contribution to the economy. But he is ambivalent about whether charities should be required to make payments.

“I have operated a nonprofit for many years and we certainly use city services, and in that respect paying some kind of PILOT makes absolute sense,” said Kennard, a founding member of the Lynn Nonprofit Business Association.

“But some nonprofits are vehemently opposed to it and fear it opens a can of worms because it would take money away from core services of their mission. And if some groups contribute, then there will be pressure on others to do the same.”

When asked if any nonprofits have stepped forward to pay, he said “no.”

Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, an advocacy group on behalf of cities and towns, said PILOTs are a matter of fairness.

“The basic premise behind PILOTs is equity, especially for communities that have a concentration of nonprofits,” he said. “Communities provide police, fire, public works and emergency response. Many communities lose a substantial portion of their tax base because of the nonprofits and that burdens all taxpayers.”

Caron, the city’s CFO, said he lacks the statutory authority to make any nonprofit pay.

“It’s really a question of the political will from the council and the mayor to put pressure on these entities,” he said. “I’ve heard talk about this issue, but there’s been no follow up. No one wants to jump on it.”

There’s at least one elected official who thinks it’s a good idea.

City Councilor Wayne Lozzi said he supports the concept, but wants to make sure the threshold is set high enough so that smaller nonprofits are not hit with a big bill.

“Whoever drafted the tax-exempt rules years ago missed the fact that the city provides police and fire safety services,” he said. “They should kick in something.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com