The events of January 6, 2021 were a horrifying display of white privilege. To our non-white colleagues, friends, neighbors, family and partners, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts stands with you. We will continue to observe, document, and track health inequities as they pertain to racism, under resourced communities, and unjust policies that don't equal the playing field for all to have what they need to lead a healthy life. To our white colleagues, friends, neighbors, family and partners, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts continues to encourage you to learn more about the historic racist systems in this country, white privilege, and how they perpetuate inequities in all realms of society every day. We can change this reality. Get to know people who are different than you. Join me and make it a 2021 goal. 

White supremacy is a threat to democracy, but the converse is also true. Democracy is a threat to white supremacy. To learn more, read a reflection by Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation.
Collaborative Care in the Berkshires
Collaborative Care Model in the Berkshires is Connecting More Students to Services

During the past 5 years, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD) has created a Collaborative Care (CC) service model to support the behavioral health needs of its students. The collaboration was initiated in response to a sharp increase in students presenting with social and emotional disabilities and a referral system that was unable to successfully match children to behavioral health care services. In spring 2020, the core CC group invited the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts to expand data collection to capture key outcomes, monitor the process and document lessons learned. 
The partnership began between two schools (Muddy Brook Elementary and Monument Valley Middle School (now named W.E.B. DuBois)), district administration, and one local pediatricians’ office, MACONY Pediatrics. MACONY supported a nurse care coordinator who aimed to provide support to families by teaming with the schools, mental health professionals, Department of Children and Families, the Brien Center for Mental Health, and other local agencies. Similarly, the school district streamlined the referral process for help with behavioral health, improving student experience and the classroom environment.

In 2019, Community Health Programs (CHP) joined the collaborative care network expanding its reach to Monument Mountain Regional High School through the creation of a Mobile Teen Health Clinic. Austen Riggs Center (ARC) Human Development Initiative provided a range of developmentally oriented educational events, training in program evaluation in collaboration with the Yale Child Study Center and Columbia University, community dinners offering experiential learning and networking opportunities, and supervision situations involving complicated mental health issues.
The initial pilot program showed positive results and addressed seemingly intractable problems relatively quickly. Within the first years of the partnership, the elementary and middle school went from a year in which only two of 34 referrals were successful (i.e., an appointment made) to 125 families connected to services.
This work is supported by a grant to Austen Riggs from the John and Geraldine Weil Memorial Foundation.
Dr. Szegda Joins the “Vax Force”
Last week Mayor Domenic Sarno and Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris announced the creation of the “Vax Force”— a COVID-19 Vaccine Education Committee made up of 15 community experts assembled to provide credible COVID-19 vaccine information to the public. Dr. Kathleen Szegda, Director of Community Research and Evaluation, will serve on the committee. 

Learn more
When can I get a COVID Vaccine? 
Phase 1 vaccinations are underway now. Learn more about the vaccine distribution timeline developed by the Baker-Polito Administration and the Department of Public Health, in consultation with the Massachusetts Vaccine Advisory Group.

Please note: The vaccine schedule changes periodically. For the most up to date information, visit the state's vaccine page.

The Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts will be hosting a webinar soon with information for the public about the COVID-19 vaccine.
State COVID Dashboard Now More Interactive
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has released a more interactive Data Dashboard. All of the same data previously provided is still available, including: data on confirmed and probable cases, testing, hospitalizations, hospital capacity and deaths. Some information previously shown in the weekly dashboard is also included: age groups, race and ethnicity, and sex of cases, hospitalizations and deaths; and city/town specific metrics.
Western MA COVID-19 Data
Visit our Western MA COVID-19 Data Dashboard for the latest regional COVID-19 data. Our dashboard is updated every Friday.
Policy Advocacy
Biomass – A Win and a New Challenge
After advocacy by legislators, advocates and Springfield residents, the MA Legislature’s climate bill removed biomass from the list of qualified energy sources for a new Greenhouse Gas Emission Standard established for municipal lighting plants and called on the Baker Administration to conduct a study on the health and climate impacts of burning biomass for energy.  The climate bill awaits the Governor’s signature.
Concerns about biomass are not over. The new climate bill will not protect Springfield residents and people living in the surrounding cities and towns from the threat of a proposed biomass plant in that community. Currently, inefficient biomass power plants don’t qualify for renewable energy credits in Massachusetts. But new rules submitted by the Baker Administration’s Department of Energy Resources (DOER) in December would roll back these standards and allow a long-contested plant, proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy, to qualify for $13-$15 million a year in clean energy subsidies paid for by Massachusetts ratepayers.  In December, the DOER submitted its proposed RPS rollbacks to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy (TUE) for review. The Legislature’s TUE committee has a narrow window of time to hold a public hearing and recommend changes to the RPS regulations:

Take action:
  • Urge the Governor to sign S.2995, the new climate bill today! Call Governor Baker’s Constituent Services Main Office: (617) 725-4005 or Email him.
  • Contact your local representatives to thank them for hearing our concerns about biomass energy, and to urge them to join us in opposing Governor Baker’s RPS rule changes, which would roll back Massachusetts stringent biomass standards and allow inefficient wood-burning electric plants like the one proposed in Springfield to rake in millions in renewable energy subsidies. Learn more.

  Anti-Racism & Health Equity
The journey of addressing racism in this country is continuous. The dedication to being anti-racist for individuals, as well as institutions/organizations, must be lifelong—both personally and professionally. It is all encompassing. The Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts is committed to our own internal work, and we feel we must share as new literature comes out, new ways for learning, new ways for listening and deepening the commitment to change. We share these new readings and examples of leaders taking action with you as we continue our journey. We extend a hand in comradery and companionship to push through what centuries of people and institutions have put in place, but not in stone.
Building Toward Racial Justice and Equity in Health: A Call to Action
This new report from the Attorney General’s Office highlights longstanding disparities and the disproportionate toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on communities of color in Massachusetts. The report calls for action in five domains:

  • Data for identifying and addressing health disparities.
  • Equitable distribution of health care resources.
  • Telehealth as a tool for expanding equitable access to care.
  • Health care workforce diversity.
  • Social determinants of health and root causes of health inequities.

Racism is a Public Health Crisis
Cities across the country (and some states) have started to formally recognize racism as a public health crisis through resolutions, executive orders, and other legislation. More than 14 communities in Massachusetts have made some sort of declaration. While this is an important first step, it is not enough. This report offers recommendations for governments interested in enacting laws declaring racism as a public health crisis, including examples of measures that have already passed. Additionally, the report suggests that our failure to accurately define and conceptualize racism has limited our ability to adequately address it. This report offers examples of how different types of racism (structural, institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal/internalized racism) impact key areas of the social determinants of health such as education, employment, healthcareRead the report.
Housing & Food Are Top Searches on 413Cares Online Resource launched in November 2019, since then, recent data released by Western Massachusetts shows that more than 18,000 residents have accessed the database for important information for critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The portal has taken on additional importance to help those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Needs have been on the rise for community resources as a result of the pandemic. As a single online point of contact, 413Cares efficiently connects people in the region to critical services they may need including housing, food and nutrition, healthcare, transportation, early education and more.

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Upcoming Events
  • COVID-19 Vaccine Webinar Series, starting 1/11/21 at 6:00 pm: Join Trinity Health Of New England experts for an educational presentation about the COVID-19 vaccine and what you need to know. Following the presentation, there will be a Question & Answer session. Sessions will take place on Monday Evenings at 6 pm starting January 11 through February 15. Learn more and register.
  • Landlord and Tenant Rights and Responsibilities, 1/11/21 at 10:30 am: The Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is hosting a winder education training series. Learn more and register.
  • Workers' Rights, 1/13/21 at 2:00 pm: The Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is hosting a winder education training series. Learn more and register.
  • Understanding Hoarding Disorder & Resources Available, 1/19/21 at 2:00 pm: Join the Springfield Healthy Homes Collaborative for a discussion about hoarding disorder and resources available. Featuring Colleen Loveless (Revitalize CDC), Alane Burgess (Mental Health Association), Rebecca Belofsky Shuer and Lee Shuer (Mutual Support Consulting, LLC), and Meris Bergquist (Mass Fair Housing). To register email Shirley Rodriguez.
Research & Evaluation