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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mass. Reports Progress on Painkillers

painkillersIn 2012, I helped Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announce its painkiller prescription safety program, and was pleased to help them announce the 2 year results of the initiative. Here’s the story from today’s Boston Globe.

This is a common sense approach that balances the real pain management needs of patients with the equally real public health problem of opiate addiction — much of it driven by non-medical use of narcotic painkillers. How do you know when a health plan is doing the right thing? When they focus on safety and they reduce the number of painkiller dosages by 6 million pills. And, there’s virtually no complaints from patients or providers.

For those familiar with public health, the notion that there’s an opiate painkiller/heroin problem in Massachusetts is not something that feels particularly new. For years while other parts of the country dealt with the scourge of methamphetamines, in New England the drug that seemed to cause the greatest amount of damage on the street was heroin. Every now and then you’d hear about an increase in overdoses, usually caused by a particularly potent form of heroin, or because it was cut with the painkiller fentanyl.

At first I thought the latest media storm around heroin addiction was driven more by the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

However, something new — and deadly — is clearly happening now. The response to this epidemic must be multifaceted, with prevention and treatment at the forefront. I was happy to see that Governor Patrick declare a public health emergency, but it will take more than government or law enforcement to address opiate addiction and overdoses. This is a community-wide dilemma and it will require a community coalition to address it — one that includes health care providers and payers.

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One Family’s Story

I had the enormous privilege of spending some time with an amazing boy and his family recently. I was asked to produce a short video telling the story of John Wilmar. The purpose of the video was also to raise awareness of a program known as Community Case Management (CCM).

CCM is a Massachusetts program devoted to helping families with special needs children, so that their children can remain at home with family rather that being placed in a longterm care facility. Through the use of Personal Care Attendants and specialized nursing, families get the help they need to support their loved ones and stay together.

The Wilmar family was so generous in telling their story. It was my honor to work with them.

The Boston Globe recently profiled the Wilmars in a recent story.

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Boston Globe: Building Medical Homes

MedHomesPicI was very happy to help Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and UMass Medical School with this OpEd piece that ran in the Boston Globe’s Podium section today.

There is so much transformation happening in every corner health care today. One of the most interesting and important is the movement to create medical care that is centered on the patient. That may seem like a simple concept, but is much more difficult in practice. This article describes how building medical homes for people who are homeless might just make health care better for all of us.

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Health Policy Radio Podcast Launches

Retro-microphoneToday we’re announcing the launch of a new project produced by The Digital Pitch.  Health Policy Radio is a brief “headline podcast” that gives listeners a quick report on the top health policy and public health stories of the day. As we build up a head of steam we’ll also work in the occasional expert interview and analysis piece. Given that this is such a transformative time  in healthcare, and that Massachusetts is home to so many leading experts, there should be no shortage of issues to talk about and people to talk to.

Please listen and consider subscribing at healthpolicyradio.org.

Happy New Year.

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NYT Video on Use of Smart Phones and Social Media to Report on Boston Marathon Bombings

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The Advocate

Michael Poirier, a patient-student advocate at the Massachusetts Hospital School, is one of those people who leave you feeling inspired.  There are a million Michael Poiriers in the world, but we rarely see them let alone hear from them.  The last few years I’ve had the privilege of meeting a number of people who are living life with a physical disability.  It’s interesting how few opportunities we get to interact with people who are disabled. Unless we have a friend or family member who’s disabled, we rarely get a chance to get to know someone with that lived experience.

My first job out of college was at the Perkins School for The Blind, in Watertown, Mass.  I showed up late for a job fair at school, and it had all wrapped up the time that I got there.  On my way out I found a flier on the ground advertising jobs for childcare workers in the Deaf/Blind summer program at Perkins.  I decided to check it out.  At that point in my life, I had not been around anyone with a serious disability — let alone living with some of the profound physical and developmental disabilities that I saw in the kids at Perkins.

I regret to say my first thought upon seeing the kids in the Deaf/Blind program was… ‘I need to get out of here.’  How could I possibly relate to, care for, or communicate with these kids?  What could I possibly teach them?

Those, I found out later, were the wrong questions.  I know that because I stayed.

I ended up working at Perkins a couple of times early in my career — I worked both in the “cottages” as they call the housing there, and in the classroom.  By the time  I left, I had friends that would become my best friends even to this day.  But most of all I learned that we are all the same in big ways, even as we’re different in others.  Some of us may communicate in a different way, some of us may move in a different way, but inside we all have personalities; we all have desires; we all have the ability to connect with another person and we all experience the emotions that make live worth living. The kids at Perkins taught me that and I will be forever grateful to them.

I also learned that we each have something to give — even people living with a disability.  Each of us just needs a chance.

I’m glad someone gave Michael Poirier that chance.

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Never Put The Camera Down

Video_CameraAfter having a blog connected to this site in name only for quite a while, I decided to kickstart my writing again. First step was to take a blogging class offered by Chris Brogan. Not so bad so far, but I did make this commitment at the beginning of the week to post a blog at least once a week.

And, it’s late Friday night. And, I haven’t posted anything yet.

I must have something to say, right? Actually I do, but the inspiration for the series of posts that I’ve decided to write doesn’t really have anything to do with me. Over the past few years I’ve produced about 50 videos of people, programs and moments — but mostly people just telling their stories.

I like their stories, and listening to them and sharing them with others has been one of the more pleasurable parts of my story in recent years.

This story taught me to never put my camera down.  It’s about a guy named Chet Kennedy. I was asked by the Massachusetts Public Health Museum to do a video profile on Chet, who had a long career in public health and was one of the people who founded the public health museum. The video was to be shown at a dinner honoring him.

The reason I love doing these videos is that I love meeting people and hearing their stories, and Chet has a great one.


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An Advent Call To Action

This OpEd was published in the MetroWest Daily News on December 20, 2012.

WalkInWoodsIn the Christian faith, Advent is a season of hope and of hopeful expectation.  A time when we commemorate the birth of a child, one that scripture told us would become the savior of the world.  No matter what your faith tradition, whether you’re a believer or non-believer, the story of a child as the vehicle for hope, expectation and gentleness in the world is a powerful symbol that resonates.

It speaks to us because it is true.

That’s why what happened in that small Connecticut town is so shattering and unfathomable.  Children in school are supposed to be safe.  When that simple truth is proven wrong, it strikes at the core of a sacred duty as a parent to provide for and protect one’s family.  Of course, the senseless killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is a tragedy not just for parents, it is a continued stain on our culture and our country.

In 2012, the list of mass shootings in the U.S. has grown to 16 and claimed more than 80 lives.  Shootings have taken place in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Oklahoma, Washington state, Delaware, Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas, Minnesota, Oklahoma (again), Oregon, and now Connecticut.  Add to this shameful list every other state, and the approximately 30,000 lives annually that it’s estimated we lose to gun violence and you get a disturbing picture that is very different from the one we like to paint of ourselves.  And, it’s not just about the violence — it’s about our indifference to that violence.

Over the past couple of days, a recurring thought is how much time we waste on things that really don’t matter.  We have a political system that spends time talking about deadlines and made-up “cliffs”.  We have news media that play along by weaving a narrative of a false balance, giving both sides a say instead of calling a lie a lie. We spend too much time talking down teachers when their efforts on behalf of our children are often life changing.  In the case of the Connecticut shooting, their actions crossed into the realm of heroic.

We have to do better.  Why is it that we can’t even have a discussion about the unfettered access to firearms in this country?  Twenty dead children and seven dead adults, all but one killed in an elementary school.  Let that sink in for a moment.  If this isn’t the time to talk about a gun culture run amok, then I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to talk about it.

Forget about the power of the National Rifle Association.  Let’s have the discussion. Either we prevail with some rational gun laws, or we look ourselves square in the mirror as a country and say that 20 dead elementary school kids is the price we’re willing to pay to sustain our disproportionate fascination with guns.

In the coming days, as the shock of the tragedy wears off, we’ll start to hear about a million reasons why we can’t stop something like this from happening.  We should try anyway, and reasonable restrictions on access to guns are a good start.

Advent is about hope, and a season to welcome joyful light into our lives.  For me, that light comes in the form of two beautiful children that I can’t imagine living life without. It breaks my heart to know that there are 26 families in our neighboring state that do have to imagine such a life.

My hope is that we do more than mourn and pray for the victims and their loved ones.  As a society, we owe it to them to take action that is long overdue by trying to prevent any other family from enduring such an unspeakable loss.

Tom Lyons is a resident of Natick.

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Good Luck Nicole Freedman!

There’s been a lot of great press recently for Nicole Freedman, the City of Boston’s “Bike Czar”.   Nicole is leaving her city post to become executive director of Maine Huts and Trails.  The Boston Globe ran a nice editorial last week (sorry, you need an account to read it), and there was a great column on Nicole today on Boston.com.

I got to know a bit about Nicole when I shot a video with her for the Boston Public Health Commission regarding an award the Commission was presenting to her, and Boston Transportation Commissioner, Tom Tinlin.  She was great to work with, and is every bit the kind of hardworking, selfless person that we all want in public service.  She did great things with Boston Bikes, and I bet she does great things in Maine as well — they are lucky to get her.

Good luck, Nicole!

Here’s the video we worked on together.  The theme of the program was “Public Health Super Heroes”, so we did a take off on The Incredibles.  Both Tom and Nicole were good sports.

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2nd Annual Natick Jingle Bell Run

Last weekend I had the opportunity to produce a short video for the Natick Jingle Bell Run.  This run is quickly becoming a tradition in Natick and this year it raised about $5,400 for the Natick Service Council — more than double what the race raised last year.  Colleen Phelps and Kathy Landry, two local businesswomen, organize the race; here’s a recent article about the race that appeared in the Boston Globe.  It was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning and, thankfully, the weather cooperated.  Thanks to Colleen, Kathy and all the sponsors and runners for making the day such a success.

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