Last month, we welcomed the Boston Police Academy's newest recruits. These men and women had spent the last six months learning to serve and protect the people of Boston with the highest standards of excellence and professionalism. As each recruit crossed the stage, they stopped to shake hands with me and Commissioner Gross. It was a powerful experience meeting each and every new member of our city’s police department, which is the oldest — and the best — in the nation. Among these recruits are veterans, former teachers, and youth sports coaches.
In our district, many agree that structural inequities abound in our public institutions. One stark example: the criminal justice system. The belief that we must not only expose, but also eradicate the injustice embedded in Massachusetts “Correctional” Institutions (MCIs), and in the systems that send people there, is a big part of what inspired my run as state representative. Since assuming office I’ve regularly visited four of our MCIs to participate in restorative justice events, to take a tour of education and jobs training facilities, and, most importantly, to learn from and support political organizing “inside the walls,” as those living there often refer to themselves. The African American Coalition Committee (AACC) is one of a number of inspiring leadership organizations comprised of incarcerated persons.
ByState Rep. Liz Malia and State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz |
The 70th anniversary of the law that enabled the state to treat chronically ill individuals at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital seems like an apt time to consider how our understanding of public health has changed, and how pressing the need for access to health care remains. Chapter 770 of the Acts of 1949 formalized the City of Boston and the Commonwealth’s agreement to transfer “up to 15 acres of…Franklin Park...Any land conveyed under this act shall, from and after such conveyance be held for the state department of public health, which is hereby authorized and directed to construct on such land a six-hundred bed hospital for the care of persons suffering from chronic disease, including a nurse’s home, outpatient department and other facilities.”
Policymakers then understood a general link between poverty and chronic disease incidence, which is why they agreed to build a public teaching hospital and outpatient facilities offering affordable diagnosis and rehabilitation services in the Commonwealth’s biggest city. Since then, diabetes and addiction have overtaken tuberculosis as public health threats, but the poverty-health link is clearer than ever now. We see our poorest neighbors often struggling with multiple chronic conditions (infectious and otherwise) that are impossible to treat when their housing is unstable or nonexistent. The infectious diseases that incubate among economically fragile, homeless and very sick populations rarely stay there, as San Diego and other cities have learned to their chagrin. I and others worked with state agencies in 2018 to meet your request for more transparent planning. I’ve spent the last year following the work of the Shattuck Hospital’s Community Advisory Board and neighbors to define a new service model that will ready the campus for another century of public health shifts. Those conversations between the state’s Executive Office of Health & Human Services, the Department of Public Health, and Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and the City of Boston’s Departments of Neighborhood Development and Health and Human Services and your neighbors are informed by links between poverty, housing and health. At almost every neighborhood meeting I attend with you, and in others across districts, the most common questions raised are: how anyone can afford to continue living here?
Jamaica Plain, where you’re lucky to get a two-bedroom apartment for under $2,500, was once a neighborhood where homes were burned for insurance money. It was a neighborhood our state was ready to sacrifice for a highway. So when JPNDC (Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation) was founded in 1977, our priorities were bringing back jobs, turning burned-out lots into homes, and making the neighborhood livable again. Today, we face record wealth and income gaps, dramatically reduced economic mobility, and unaffordable housing. As across the country, lower-income people are on a treadmill, getting by at best rather than building security for their children.
In America today, approximately 45-47 million, or 1 out of 5 Americans, is suffering with a mental health issue; and approximately 1 in 25 adults is currently experiencing a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with one or more major life activities. Sadly, the rate of suicide is at a 30-year high. While more individuals are accessing care, an astounding 9 million are struggling with unmet needs. These are our friends, colleagues, neighbors and perhaps our own family members. As CEO of the Arbour Hospital, my staff and I have the privilege of serving many members of our community who are experiencing some of the most challenging times of their lives – mental illnesses that are often invisible to the casual observer in ways that physical illnesses are not. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, providing an important opportunity for reflection and collective action to address barriers, including the ongoing stigma and stereotypes preventing many individuals from getting the care they need.