An Open Letter to Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, Commissioner of Public Health
December 4, 2020
To: Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, Commissioner of Public Health
c/o Dr. Edward Bernstein, Public Health Council
Dear Commissioner Bharel,
In the Commonwealth, as well as across the nation, the valuable expertise of public health is being ignored, as people heedlessly expose themselves and others to COVID-19.
Elderly and disabled tenants are at high-risk from COVID-19. Circumstances in multi-unit elder care facilities create a significant risk of transmission. We are working to engage our elderly and disabled neighbors and landlords to empower them to implement protective mandates and best practices against COVID-19. I am the Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition and write on behalf of 92,000 tenants elderly and disabled tenants living in more than 1,400 public and subsidized multi-unit facilities across the Commonwealth.
Some tenants and landlords endanger the community by non-compliance. We tenants cannot enforce compliance, and it is not clear that landlords have, or are willing to use, their authority to enforce public health needs. Public health officials do have enforcement authority. If we were to follow public health protocols, we would be more effective if we were to know the COVID-19 status of our specific facility, our home. This information will impact motivation and trigger appropriate infection control and responses to support communal well-being.
We need your help:
We ask the Department of Public Health and local health departments to enforce the emergency mandates, regulations, and best practices, covering both landlords and tenants. Here we consider the scope of oversight and enforcement in “elder care facilities” to include landlords, their agents, and tenants; in all multi-unit public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled; and in multi-unit housing where elderly and disabled have a voucher subsidy, including public (“common”) areas in all facilities.
We ask the Department of Public Health and local health departments to enable and implement daily publication of site-specific (not personal) surveillance reports of COVID-19 cases using data from all sources available to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and/or local health departments. Is it possible to do this by modifying the order on March 18, 2020 from the Governor and the Commissioner of the Mass. Department of Public Health that local health departments can only share addresses of cases with first responders. We ask for site-specific location of cases, without personal identification of individuals to respect privacy.
There is not the time to educate and motivate everyone although we will try, new habits are hard to adopt, so in order to prevent needless morbidity and mortality, we need action by public health authorities. We believe that the Department of Public Health and local health departments have the authority and obligation to enforce mandates. If the Department of Public Health lacks the authority or resources, let us work with the Governor and the legislature to quickly provide the necessary authority and resources.
Commissioner Bharel, we urgently ask you and your colleagues on the Public Health Council to review these proposals and to implement them as soon as possible.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions. Thank you for your consideration and for what you do.
Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition, Tenant in HUD-subsidized housing. Appointed by Governor Baker to represent the Stop Bullying Coalition on the Commission on Bullying.
Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health. Professor Siegel is the public health advisor to the Stop Bullying Coalition.
Michael Kane, Executive Director, National Alliance of HUD Tenants and Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (organizations listed for identification purposes only); Alexander Cuevas, Community Lead, Housing Lynn Coalition; Bonny Zeh, co-founder, Stop Bullying Coalition, tenant in Somerville Public Housing; Kathleen Burke, Tenant in Salem Public Housing, leader of the former city-wide tenants association in Salem; Lori Bermani, tenant in Salem Public Housing, advocate; Judy Maker, tenant in Peabody subsidized housing; Irene O'Donnell, tenant in Peabody subsidized housing; Steve Kelley, tenant in Peabody subsidized housing; Lynn Costello, Lowell Coalition Against Bullying, tenant in a ~55 unit building with ~12 current COVID-19 cases & currently in quarantine herself with COVID-19.
Examples of tenant & management efforts
Hebrew SeniorLife: https://www.hebrewseniorlife.org/covid-19/resources-senior-care-organiz…
2Life Communities Protocols: https://www.2lifecommunities.org/covid-19-protocols-and-procedures
CDC: Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Retirement Communities and Independent Living Facilities https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/guidance-retirement…
COVID-19 DHCD Website, provides guidance for several categories of housing https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-dhcd-website
Alert: A Public Health Crisis Threatens Lives of Elderly & Disabled https://stopbullyingcoalition.org/masks
Working Together Against COVID-19 in Multifamily Housing
Little Red Hen Survey https://tinyurl.com/y6t68h8u
Information: Empowered With, Fearful Without
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