The Healing Power of Arts and Culture
New Report of Findings from the Berkshires & Springfield
“In so many ways, arts and culture feed us as human beings. Feeds our sense of self and identity and humanity in any way that we create anything – writing, music, gardening, dancing, sewing – feeds our sense of who we are in the world. Arts and culture feeds us intellectually, we learn about the rest of the world, content, academic or cultural – we learn through our senses and it piques our curiosity and digs deeper…It also feeds us inter-personally – knowing where interpersonal connections that help us realize that we are not alone in the world.” Community Interview with Arts and Culture Organization

Last year, PHIWM was approached by Eileen McCaffrey, Executive Director of the Community Music School of Springfield and the Commissioner of the Mass Cultural Council to partner on connecting healthcare to arts and culture organizations and artists. Their vision was twofold (1) to expand the reach of arts and culture organizations to new audiences and participants, and (2) to heal individuals and communities by incorporating arts in primary care (a practice that other countries around the world have already figured out).
Together with MACONY Pediatrics in the Berkshires and Caring Health Center of Springfield, we evaluated and assessed what a more intentional partnership between these sectors would look like and take to roll out. What we heard was that everyone thought it is a "must do" endeavor. Reasons include:

  • Building up local young artists, particularly artists of color and artists with disabilities, as we historically do with traditional arts and culture organizations, will benefit the creative economy and expand access.
  • Highlighting indigenous arts and artists from immigrant and refugee communities is a way of forging through biases and historically segregated groups.
  • Infusing health center staff with information that they can share with their patients, or even host at their centers, is a way of offering soul filling elixir. 
We share this report Culture RX Report: Findings from the Berkshires & Springfield with you as a means to generate excitement for this vision as well as to highlight the numerous artists, organizations and residents that informed the assessment. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their insights, hopes, and dreams.  
Advocacy and Education
MA Enacts Breakfast After The Bell
Breakfast After the Bell legislation was signed into law on August 4th and will go into effect in 2022. The law requires high-poverty schools (schools with 60% or more students eligible for free or reduced lunch) to offer breakfast to all students after the instructional day begins. This will increase access to breakfast because it doesn’t require students to arrive early to school in order to participate (which can be a challenge due to bus schedules, unreliable transportation, and stigma). Consistently eating breakfast in the morning is connected to improved academic performance and other benefits. Learn more about the benefits of Breakfast After the Bell
MDPH Deems HMC Birthing Center Necessary
You may recall from our previous newsletter that Holyoke Medical Center wanted to close their award winning birthing center because of financial reasons. PHIWM recommended to the MA Department of Public Health that before any decision like this is made, a Health Impact Assessment should be conducted to understand the true impact. After a public hearing in late July, MDPH deemed the birthing center necessary. The state has requested that Holyoke Medical Center initiates ongoing engagement with the community to understand the impact and ensure access for the future.
Don’t Subsidize Pollution in the ‘Asthma Capital’
The Massachusetts legislature is currently working on finalizing sweeping climate legislation, including a provision that will create new incentives for biomass incinerators.The Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition has advocated for many years against the biomass incinerator proposed for Springfield because of the impact that will have on an already burdened community that is the "asthma capital" of the US.

Make your voice heard on behalf of cleaner air, racial justice and health equity:

Past PVAC Testimony against Biomass:
Protecting Immigrant Families
On 7/29/20, a Federal Judge blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a policy during the Coronavirus pandemic that allows the government to deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believe are likely to use public benefits.

Immigrants can seek testing, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19 without fearing immigration consequences due to public charge.

Read more information on immigrant eligibility to federal programs during the public health crisis.
New Western MA COVID-19 Data Dashboard
Last week we unveiled our new COVID-19 Data Dashboard for Western MA. To create the dashboard, we’ve compiled COVID-19 county-level data that is publicly available from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in what we hope is a compelling and user-friendly format.

We aim to update our dashboard weekly on Thursday mornings. Our dashboard will evolve based on the changing availability of data as well as your feedback.

Check out our other COVID-19 Data Resources:

Flu Vaccine now Required for all Massachusetts Students
Massachusetts Health Officials announced that every student 6 months or older is required to have a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 unless there is a medical or religious exemption provided.

Flu symptoms are very similar to COVID-19 symptoms. Preventing the flu will preserve healthcare resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more on the requirements here.
Free COVID Testing in Holyoke
Free drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be available outside of Holyoke Community College’s Bartley Center for Athletics and Recreation from August 26 through September 12. Learn more.

Learn about other free testing sites offered through the Stop the Spread Initiative.
Looking for resources in Western Mass? Check out these resource websites!
Upcoming Events & Virtual Learning
  • Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Childcare Facilities, August 27 1-2:30pm: CLPPP is partnering with MassDEP and UMass Amherst to present a free training about lead in drinking water at schools and daycares, as well as free state assistance to help address it. This is especially relevant as facilities reopen after being closed due to the pandemic. Speakers include staff from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Learn more and register.