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Massachusetts COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force starts to take shape ahead of June 30 deadline

By Steph Solis | Jun 23, 2020

A Baystate Health executive and the CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers are among the officials joining the state’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which was created to examine health disparities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Frank Robinson, vice president of Baystate Health, and Michael Curry, CEO and general counsel at the league, were appointed by Senate President Karen Spilka, her office announced Tuesday.

Spilka tapped two lawmakers to serve on the task force: Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat, and Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat. She also appointed Dr. Milagros Abreu, founder and executive director of the Latino Health Insurance Program, and Dr. Cassandra Pierre, an infectious diseases physician at Boston Medical Center.

“The formation of this task force and its recommendations will help provide a road map for improving health care services across the commonwealth, particularly in our communities of color who were disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka, an Ashland Democrat.

The House has not yet announced its appointments. A source in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office said he plans to appoint Rep. Jose Tosado, also a Springfield Democrat, and Rep. Chynah Tyler, a Boston Democrat. The task force will also include Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat and chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, as required by statute.

The names of other appointees were not immediately available.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the data collection bill in early June, and filed his own data collection bill shortly after. The new data collection law imposed daily reporting requirements for long-term care facilities and the state Department of Public Health.

When the pandemic began, DPH started publishing the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths but resisted sharing information broken down by town. Eventually, the department expanded its daily reports to include breakdowns by town, race, age and gender.

The data collection law also created a 16-member task force that reflects the state’s diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, language, geography, gender identity, sexuality and age. The group is supposed to include six appointees by the Senate president, six appointees by the House speaker, one minority leader appointee of each legislative body, the Massachusetts Asian-American Legislative Caucus chair or a designee and the BLLC chair or a designee.

The task force is required to make recommendations on improving safety for at-risk populations, removing barriers to health care services and treatment, increasing access to medical supplies and COVID-19 testing, making information about available and affordable health care resources known to to underserved or underrepresented populations and any other factor the task force deems relevant.

“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,” Chang-Diaz told the State House News Service in a statement after the bill’s passage.

The announcement of task force appointees comes a week before the group’s first deadline. The task force has until June 30 to file an interim report on initial recommendations and concerns about health disparities in Massachusetts. Additional recommendations are due Aug. 1.

The task force is expected to hold at least one public hearing and accept public comment before its interim filing report, as well as two subsequent public hearings before the final report deadline. Spilka’s office said the full task force will convene after all the appointments are made.

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