Mass Senate Passes Legislation to Collect Vital Public Health Data, Establish a COVID-19 Diversity Task Force

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The following is a press release from the Massachusetts Senate President’s office submitted to SOURCE Media. Senate President Karen Spilka, is a Democrat who represents Framingham, Natick & Ashland.

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday, May 28, passed bipartisan legislation to promote equity and transparency as the Commonwealth continues to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill, An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment, will increase the amount of statewide, publicly available data as it relates to the coronavirus. The legislation also establishes a task force to study and make policy recommendations to address health disparities for underserved and underrepresented communities during the pandemic. The bill advanced to the governor.

The bill, which is the latest action by the Senate to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its effects on Massachusetts, now advances to the governor’s desk.

“This strong, comprehensive bill will help us begin to address the disparate impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare, especially among our communities of color and other vulnerable populations,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am proud of the thoughtful and collaborative work my Senate colleagues, as well as the Senate Working Group, did to advance this urgent piece of legislation. I look forward to it becoming law.”

“Thanks to the leadership of Senate President Spilka, the bill we passed today is a true reflection of the Senate’s teamwork,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D- Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Owing to the collaborative spirit and input of Senators Brownsberger, Comerford, Chang-Diaz, Cyr, and Jehlen, this critical legislation increases transparency and ensures we have access to the important data necessary to effectively and precisely fight this pandemic.”

“This legislation has two major wins: data transparency and government accountability,” said Senator Jo Comerford, co-chair of the Committee on Public Health and Chair of the Senate COVID-19 Working Group (D-Northampton). “Public access to comprehensive data is foundational to a strong democracy and a healthy government is one that commits publicly to address any disparities and inequities found in the data. Thank you to the advocates who organized effectively around this legislation. And thank you to the Senate President, Chair Rodrigues, and colleagues for their tenacious efforts and commitment to propelling this bill across the finish line.”

“Communities of color are more vulnerable to disease because of long-term, structural barriers to care and treatment,” said Assistant Majority Whip Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “COVID-19 has disproportionately sickened and killed underserved and underrepresented populations in Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth is obligated to respond and care for communities where the need is greatest. Collecting actionable demographic data is critical to inform policies and interventions for the duration of the pandemic. This legislation is a step towards making right the gaping equities that COVID-19 has laid bare.”

“This pandemic has been particularly devastating for Black, brown, and immigrant communities across the state, and this bill is a vital step towards helping us craft an equitable recovery,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), a member of the Massachusetts Black & Latino Legislative Caucus. The bill’s data requirements are rigorous, comprehensive, and time-sensitive and — so importantly — it takes the next steps beyond data and requires the development of action steps to address COVID-19 disparities. Many thanks to Senate President Spilka, Senator Rodrigues, and Senator Comerford for ushering through such a strong bill, to the Black & Latino Caucus, and to so many in the healthcare and social services communities–in particular, the Massachusetts Public Health Association–for their dedicated and thoughtful advocacy throughout this process.”

“Overcoming the challenges of gaps in treatment and access to health care has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “By working together, the House and Senate have responded with a comprehensive bill, with bipartisan support, that will help close those gaps while informing our future decisions to prevent inequalities from happening in the first place.”

Under the bill, the Department of Public Health (DPH) is required to compile, collect and issue daily online reports on the number of people tested for COVID-19, positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths along with the gender, race, ethnicity, primary residence, occupation, disability, age and primary language of each case.

To ensure a comprehensive understanding of cases statewide, the legislation also requires that daily reports include data and demographic information from municipalities and counties with more than 25 positive cases, elder care facilities, as well as state and county correctional facilities. Facility-specific information will be made publicly available while maintaining individual privacy. In addition to requiring greater data collection, the bill requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to describe the actions it is taking to address disparities identified through the data collected.

In response to increasing concerns about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and disproportionately impacted populations, the legislation also establishes a task force to study and make policy recommendations for how to address these health disparities.

The task force is required to issue an interim report by June 30, 2020, with a final report due August 1, 2020.

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