Massachusetts lawmakers consider new framework to help elders

Massachusetts lawmakers consider new framework to help elders, people with disabilities make decisions. Pitching a legislative committee on a bill that would provide a framework for individuals with disabilities and elders to make their own decisions with the aid of people they trust, advocates described the planned arrangement as a process not that different from the way lawmakers would work together to consider their bill.

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The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities heard testimony Monday on bills that would formally allow someone to enter into a supported decision-making agreement, where they can appoint another trusted adult to assist them in making and communicating decisions about their affairs, instead of having a guardian make choices for them.

“Everyone uses supported decision-making every day, even you all sitting here today,” said Kim Plaut, a board member of the self-advocacy organization Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong. “Supported decision-making is like talking to a friend or a coworker about how they can choose to do something, like today you are going to talk about whether or not you make this bill pass in here. That is exactly what supported decision-making is — it’s about making decisions with each other and the people that we trust.”

Supporters said the measure was not designed to replace guardianships, but to provide a less restrictive option where appropriate.

Malia Windrow-Carlotto told the committee that when her son Cory, who is on the autism spectrum, was about to turn 18, she and her husband felt he needed more time to develop his decision-making skills.

“This left us with a dilemma,” she recalled. “How do we protect Cory? In the meantime, do we deny him the rights that law would provide?”

Windrow-Carlotto said the family’s options were presented as a binary: guardianship or no guardianship. They entered into a guardianship, she said, and in 2015 Cory joined a supported decision-making pilot program and became the first Massachusetts resident to have a court terminate his guardianship for a supported decision-making agreement.

“Cory has flourished since he started using SDM,” Windrow-Carlotto said. “He is now living in his own apartment, has traveled the country with his friends and is now working full-time. Supported decision-making has helped our son become the adult he wishes to be, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Rep. Paul Tucker and Sen. Joan Lovely, both Salem Democrats, filed the supported decision-making bills (H 272, S 124).

Last session, the committee redrafted and advanced House and Senate versions of supported-decision making bills. In the Senate, the bill died in the Ways and Means Committee, while the House granted initial approval to its bill but took no further action on it.

“This trusted partnership has shown it has much better outcomes across the board,” Tucker said. “We know that it has been shown to be successful in the 11 states that are currently doing this. It’s really about a trust and a comfort level in place here, reducing the need for other, more coercive forms of intervention.”

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said Monday there are “no excuses” for people not to get vaccinated as the number of new coronavirus cases among city residents rose for the third consecutive week, again dominated by younger residents.

There were 495 new COVID-19 infections among Springfield residents last week, Nov. 14-20, as compared to 400 cases the week before, Nov. 7-13, city officials said.

“Simply put, for health and human services commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris and I not to consider going back to mandating restrictions, we need to get everyone vaccinated,” Sarno said in a news release. “It is plain and simple, get your shot and your booster shot. There is no excuses, the vaccine is readily available for everyone.”

Vaccination is the way to “put to rest this surreal COVID-19 pandemic and move forward with everything we can’t to do,” Sarno said.

City officials continue to raise concerns that the largest portion of residents who were newly infected last week — 54.1% — are 30 or younger. There were 268 residents in that age group last week.

Of that number, 212 were under the age of 20, Caulton-Harris said.

The city ended a mask mandate on Nov. 1, no longer requiring people to wear masks at public places and gatherings. The mask mandate took effect Sept. 13 in response to an increase in cases at that time.

Springfield peaked at 886 new COVID cases the week of Sept. 12, and that number dropped to 214 the week of Oct. 24.

Caulton-Harris said that with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, “it should be common practice to ask an individual who is at any indoor gathering their vaccination status.” That information helps others to decide their own strategies such as wearing masks and taking other “prevention, intervention and mitigation strategies,” she said.

The city recently stated that approximately 52% of residents are fully vaccinated, significantly lower than the state vaccination rate.

“If everyone in the gathering is fully vaccinated, masks are not necessary,” Caulton-Harris said. “However if there are unvaccinated individuals in the gathering face covering/Masks are advised for those persons.”

At Baystate Health, there were 68 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infections on Monday, including seven in critical care, a spokesman said. That included 53 patients at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and the remainder at community hospitals in the region.

That compared to 70 hospitalized patients at Baystate Health hospitals last Monday.

There were eight COVID-19 patients at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield on Monday, including one in intensive care, a spokeswoman said.

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