Mass Business Blog

News and Perspectives on Massachusetts Business and Economy

Big Win for Injured Workers in MA: Courts Now Allowing Compensation for Pain and Suffering Damages

On February 12, 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that, in third-party settlements, workers’ compensation liens will not cover damages for injured employees’ pain and suffering. The compensation for these “noneconomic damages,” which had previously been awarded to workers’ compensation insurance providers, will now be passed on to the workers. The ruling in the case—DiCarlo vs. Suffolk Construction—came as a victory for injured workers, ensuring that workers’ compensation insurance providers may not claim the entirety of a worker’s settlement with a responsible third party. The Law in Massachusetts Massachusetts workers’ compensation law entitles injured workers to compensation for medical care and lost wages. However, it does not provide compensation for pain and suffering. In some cases, a worker’s injuries at a workplace occur as the result of negligence by a third party, such as a property owner or contractor. If the third party is responsible for the injury, the injured worker can sue for damages—including compensation for pain and suffering—from the individual or party at fault. In DiCarlo vs. Suffolk Construction, the court ruled that workers’ compensation will not cover the portion of a third-party settlement intended to cover pain and suffering. What Is the Business Impact of the Court’s Decision? Third-party settlement amounts are sometimes less than the full amount of a workers’ compensation lien. An injured worker may choose to accept a compromise settlement that guarantees some compensation rather than risking a loss at trial. Prior to the DiCarlo ruling, a workers’ compensation insurance company could reduce its lien and allow an injured worker to keep some portion of a third-party settlement; the law, however, did not mandate such a lien reduction. From now on, an injured worker will now receive the portion of a third-party claim set aside for pain and suffering, with the remainder of the settlement used to defray legal expenses and any...

Is It Legal for Hospitals to Ban Nicotine-Positive Employees in MA?

In 2011, UMass Memorial Marlborough Hospital adopted a tobacco-free policy for its property. Recently, the same hospital announced that they would be establishing a nicotine-free hiring policy for all new employees as well. Nicotine will join amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and others on the list of prohibited chemicals. Hospitals test for these drugs following the interviewing and application process; it is often the last step before an applicant becomes an employee. Marlborough Hospital Leads Nicotine-Free Hiring According to Steve Roach, president and CEO of Marlborough Hospital, the decision to hire exclusively nicotine-free applicants is meant to encourage employees’ healthy decisions. He expects his employees to abide by the same health advice they give to their patients—to lead by example, essentially. All hospitals in the UMass system have smoke-free and tobacco-free campuses, but Marlborough is the first in the commonwealth to establish a nicotine-free hiring policy. Is Banning Smokers Illegal? There is no federal law that protects smokers from these regulations, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not recognize tobacco smokers as a protected class. However, individual states have their own approaches. Some states say that companies cannot refuse to hire someone simply because he or she is a smoker. Massachusetts is obviously not one of those states. Even some of the states that protect smokers tend to be more strict with the healthcare industry and nonprofit organizations. Some experts say that this ban will unravel a mess of additional issues. They argue that discriminating against smokers is the same as discriminating against those with diabetes or high cholesterol. There is also the concern that a tremendously well-qualified applicant will be turned away for what some deem to be a trivial issue. Massachusetts Aims to Set Healthy Example A Swedish study found that smokers take an average of 7.67 more sick days every year than people who have never smoked....

Massachusetts Tanning Ban Has Teens Seeing Red

Massachusetts legislators have initiated a push to make it illegal for teens under the age of 18 to use or operate tanning beds. A bill requiring tanning salon employees and patrons to be 18 or older, An Act Further Regulating Tanning Facilities, was passed without contest in the Massachusetts House last week. Ten states in the US have similar laws already in place, but the current campaign in Massachusetts has been met with some heated debate. Tanning: A Well-Known Risk There is no argument against the fact that sunless tanning under high-intensity UV bulbs has been proven to increase the likelihood of certain skin cancers. The risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, increases by 74% when individuals use indoor tanning beds. Studies show that nearly 30% of white female high school students use tanning beds, and 17% use them regularly. According to Senator James Timilty, co-chairman of the public safety committee, much of the UV exposure that leads to skin cancer is incurred in the childhood and teenage years. Diagnoses of melanoma have gone up 200% since 1973. Requirements of the Tanning Ban If successful, the Massachusetts tanning ban would require teens between the ages of 16 and 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Young adults under the age of 16 will need a “written prescription from a physician” in order to tan—a script not many doctors are likely to ever hand out. The contention surrounding the tanning booth debate centers on what many consider to be an overreach by the “nanny state.” Under the current state law, teenagers between the ages of 14–17 must present a written copy of parental consent before they are allowed to tan. Adherence to this regulation is predictably inconsistent. Not only can teenagers forge a note from Mom or Dad, but many establishments may not even bother asking for...

MA Judge Upholds Sick Time Law

Massachusetts District Court Judge Rya Zobel recently dismissed a complaint filed by two construction contractors, and six construction employee associations, seeking to challenge the Commonwealth’s new sick time law. The Massachusetts Earned Sick Leave law went into effect on July 1, 2015 following overwhelming support from voters in the fall elections. The legislation requires employers with more than 11 employees to provide up to 40 hours of accrued paid sick time to workers at their “same hourly rate” of pay. Employers with fewer than 11 employees are obliged to provide the accrued time as unpaid leave. An hour of sick time is accrued for every 30 hours worked under the new sick time law, accumulating to up to 40 hours annually. After 90 days of employment, sick time may be used for an employee’s physical and mental health concerns or similar concerns for a direct family member. Employers providing existing leave benefits, if equal to or more comprehensive than the requirements of the new sick time law, will not be required to change their employee benefits. Employers and employer organizations, including the Labor Relations Division of Construction Industries of Massachusetts, filed petitions with the court to challenge the law under concerns that it would change their existing union contracts. Citing the potential for pre-existing union negotiations would be negated by the change, they argued that the new state sick time law was preempted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA). The LMRA, a federal collective bargaining law, was a core component of their argument against having to abide by the new rules for union employees. They contended that employees with benefits currently negotiated through a collective bargaining agreement should be exempt from the new legislation. In addition, the plaintiffs brought concerns regarding the definition of “same hourly rate” and posed situations under which the term could cause confusion...

California Superbug Trumped by Massachusetts-Made Device

An outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria at UCLA caused the death of several patients this past year. The source of the “superbug” was traced back to the use of contaminated endoscopes. Officials at UCLA stated that the endoscopes, by their design, are difficult to sanitize and that they followed the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions precisely. The superbug is called CRE,  is a family of germs that live in the human gastrointestinal tract and have evolved to be resistant to antibiotics. CRE does not always cause an infection in people in fact if someone has a healthy stomach the infection may not occur. CRE becomes dangerous—and potentially fatal—when it reaches the bloodstream or the bladder. It can even cause infection if it is exposed to an open wound on the skin. For patients with other conditions such as cancer, the risk of death increases. Unfortunately, this is precisely the kind of underlying condition patients receiving the endoscopies had at the time the device was used. Officials at UCLA have stated that the endoscopes are produced by different manufacturers and are all equally difficult to sanitize. Treating CRE is difficult due to its resistance to antibiotics and experts in infectious diseases state that drug companies have stopped producing new antibiotics because there isn’t enough money in the business. The best option, then,  is to prevent the spread of CRE in the first place. Medford based Langford IC Systems has developed a possible solution to the endoscope threat. The company has been working with Proven Process Medical Devices for more than a decade to create a new medical device cleaning system. The small nooks and crannies of a small device, like an endoscope, pose a serious challenge when trying to assure the removal of microscopic bacteria. Infections can fester and grow despite stringent sanitization processes. “The machine that we developed would clean, high level...

One-Year Extension for Massachusetts to Comply with Obamacare

Massachusetts has been given an additional year to comply with the Affordable Care Act, following a trend of deadline extensions. Initially granted a one-year extension in 2013, they have now been granted another year to get the program aligned with federally mandated standards. Governor Baker has asked for an “indefinite extension” citing that the reduction of qualifiers used to determine premiums could cause a ripple effect of “instability” in the insurance marketplace. The new deadline allows them until January of 2018 to fully comply with ACA requirements. Currently, Massachusetts Health Connector uses nine identifiers to determine health premiums, under Obamacare, that number would need to be reduced to four—only age, family size, geographic area, and tobacco use would be considered. The extension allows insurance companies to use their full range of factors—such as industry, group size, and participation rate—until 2017 when determining health care premiums. Another point of contention is the definition of small businesses under the ACA requirements. Governor Baker has asked that the definition of a small business in Massachusetts remains 50 employees rather than the ACA specified 100 employees. The hope is that these allowances will help prevent small business from falling prey to huge rate hikes in insurance and the associated risk of having to downsize or even close shop should the premiums become too large for a small business to afford. Administrators from both sides have continued to negotiate the specifics of the requirements over the last few weeks. This is just the latest chapter in the story of MassHealth’s continued difficulties complying to the federal ACA requirements and regulations. Just last month it was reported that the US attorney served a subpoena in January of 2015 for the Massachusetts Health Connector records dating back to 2010 in an attempt to figure out the difficulties MassHealth has encountered when trying to meet the ACA...

MassHealth Mistakes Cost Taxpayers Over $500M

In an audit of MassHealth—the MA Medicaid agency—released Tuesday, June 16th, by Massachusetts Auditor, Suzanne Bump, reported that the commonwealth’s health care program has wasted over 500 million dollars over the last five years. The errors resulted in duplicate payments being made for health services that were provided in the years studied. This error is the largest financial error uncovered by Bump’s office in nearly thirty years. 500 Million in Misapplied Funds The audit of the MassHealth system covered the years between October 2009 and September 2014. During that five year period, the MassHealth system racked up an astonishing 500 million dollars in misapplied funds and unnecessary expenditures. Some 233 million dollars of the total amount was squandered by paying medical providers directly, in direct violation of existing laws that provide for those services to be paid for by a state qualified MCO (Managed Care Organization). Doubly Charged for a Single Service According to the audit, the problem that caused these errors has to do with MassHealth’s record keeping. MassHealth did not maintain a master list detailing which medical procedures must be covered by the MCOs program-wide. This meant that the MassHealth claims system was unable to identify the services that should have been covered by the MCOs. As a result, payments were made to direct medical providers for services that were already paid for through the MCOs. This happened not once, but on a total of nearly 1.5 million occasions. The bill has naturally been passed on to the state’s taxpayers, making this an issue that will have far reaching financial, social, and political repercussions. A Shocking and Shameful Sum In addition to the 233 million dollar error by the state’s Medicaid system, Auditor Bump’s report also managed to expose an additional 288 million dollars that was wasted when the MassHealth agency spent that amount on services that...

Some MA Business Owners Urging Delay of Sick Time Law

In November of 2014, by a margin of 19 percent, voters in Massachusetts clearly expressed their wishes that a statewide provision be implemented requiring all employers to offer sick time. Every employer in the state will soon be required to offer either paid or unpaid sick time, depending on their number of employees. In each case, employees will be required to accrue the time with their hours worked, one hour for every thirty. This sick time is to be available to all employees, whether full or part-time. The regulations are expected to be issued by the Attorney General’s office in mid- June and the law is set to go into effect this July. However, some employers are concerned, saying that the compressed time frame simply doesn’t allow businesses enough time between that publication date and the implementation of the earned sick time law. This is the primary complaint being voiced by most businesses. Without those regulations in place for use as a guideline, they say, businesses will be unlikely to be able to fully comply with the new law quickly enough. There are also concerns about businesses modifying existing sick time policies to match up with the new regulations, particularly given that most are likely in the middle of their fiscal year. Representatives from both camps are now asking that the date for implementation be pushed back to January of 2016 On the other side of the argument are proponents of the new law, like Raise Up Massachusetts, who want the law to go into effect as it was originally intended – on the very same timeline chosen by voters. They claim that the people have shown that they want this law and that this matters more than any difficulties businesses may face as a consequence of implementing the new law....

Spaulding Closing Salem Location

Administrators at Spaulding Hospital have announced that it will shut down The Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore’s inpatient operations by the end of September 2015, with the hospital saying that new federal regulations will severely impact patient volume. Approximately 320 people are scheduled to be laid off because of this move and Spaulding has indicated they would, where appropriate, be assigning some displaced staff to other positions within its parent Partners HealthCare system while others will be receiving severance packages. The Salem location, formerly known as the Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital, has been experiencing declining inpatient numbers for years and now operates below 50% capacity. Given recent policy changes at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, inpatient volume was predicted to dip to below 32 percent. “The dramatic further decline based on the new admitting criteria established by CMS has created an untenable situation. Sadly, it is no longer viable to continue SNS’s inpatient services,” said David Storto, president of Partners Continuing Care, and Maureen Banks, president of Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore. “The new LTAC regulations will not impact Spaulding Hospital Cambridge to the same degree because of a different Medicare mix and a greater number of referring hospitals,” Spaulding officials said. Spokespeople for Partners HealthCare say the CMS changes won’t affect patient services at any of their other hospitals. Both inpatient and outpatient services will still be available in Charlestown, Cambridge and on Cape Cod, as well as at skilled nursing facilities in Boston and outpatient sites in the North...

Gains Reported in State’s Human Services Sector

A new research study released by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts in conjunction with UMass Dartmouth has revealed that human services sector employment in the Bay State increased nearly 48 percent during the years spanning 2003-2011, a fact many in the industry will surely find to be a source of encouragement. In addition, the report indicated that the 145,000 members of that sector generated disposable income in an amount ultimately responsible for a $3.4 billion statewide economic impact in 2011 alone. The study had been commissioned by The Providers’ Council, a leading association for community-based groups across the Commonwealth. Creation of the report was overseen by David Jordan, CEO of Seven Hills Foundation, together with fellow Providers’ Council committee members who had been charged with the task. Formally released at the Statehouse, the report also declared that the 145,000 jobs comprising the human services sector equated to 5 percent of the total jobs within the state, and that this sector had increased in size more rapidly than anticipated. Other key findings in the report include the fact that, despite sector growth, state budgetary allocations for spending on human services shrunk from 11.8 percent in FY 2003 to just 9.8 in FY 2014, something fiscal watchdogs are likely to applaud. Also of note was the discovery that out of all industries represented within Massachusetts, human services included the highest rate of employees with a defined disability, at 6.5...

Baker Takes $750M from MassHealth with New Budget

On Wednesday, March 4th, Governor Charlie Baker filed a $38.1 billion budget proposal which includes recommendations for increased spending on objectives like local aid, transportation and higher education. The budget also proposes cutting more than $750 million from MassHealth to help fill a projected deficit of $1.8 billion. For his first budget, Baker says he inherited a gaping shortfall in the available sources of revenue required to continue funding state government at the current level of service. The gap, officials say, was caused by an 8% increase in spending within the current budget year and reliance on one-time sources of up to $1.2 billion in funding. Baker will file two pieces of companion legislation with the budget, including a bill to establish an early retirement program. The second bill entails his proposals for a tax amnesty program for first time filers, a gradual elimination of the film tax credit program, and an expansion of the earned income tax credit to 30 percent of the federal credit. Without withdrawing from the state’s savings, increasing taxes or raising fees, Baker’s budget proposes to limit growth in spending by 3 percent, or $1.1 billion. It would also reduce the state’s reliance on one-time sources of funding by half. MassHealth, one of the largest expenses in the state budget, will grow by $950 million. This will represent a 5.6 percent increase in the nearly $14 billion Medicaid program, which provides healthcare to 1.7 million low and moderate income residents. MassHealth had been expected to grow by 16 percent in fiscal 2016. However, Baker’s administration have budgeted $761 million in net savings back to the state, which includes $400 million in cuts at MassHealth after a redetermination process for 1.2 million subscribers. Budget officials have stated that chiropractic benefits would no longer be covered, though adult dental coverage and coverage for autism services to 10,000...

Central Massachusetts Stands Out in Nursing Home Rankings

It seems that Massachusetts may be the best place to go for rehabilitation and aftercare. Eleven of Central Massachusetts’ nursing homes have received the top rating in U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of best nursing homes. The list for 2015 bestows five-star status to four Worcester facilities: Beaumont at University Campus, Holy Trinity Eastern Orthodox Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Jewish Healthcare Center, and Notre Dame Long Term Care Center. Other area nursing homes earning the distinction are: Blaire House and Countryside Health Care, both in Milford, Coleman House in Northborough, Sandalwood Center in Oxford, Shrewsbury Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Shrewsbury, Whittier Westborough Transitional Care Unit, in Westborough, and St. Camillus Health Center in Whitinsville. Millions of Americans will spend at least some time in a nursing home this year, either for rehabilitation after a hospital stay or as long-term residents. The Best Nursing Home 2015 list, released in February, is intended as a resource to help find the best place to receive aftercare. The list covers ratings for nearly 16,000 nursing homes across the country. Of those included on the list, only 3,392 or 21.7% received a rating of five stars. The Best Nursing Homes list is a searchable database providing valuable information about the type of care received, facility health and safety standards, and staffing. The profile for each facility displays any health and safety violations, performance ratings in various clinical categories, and the amount of time that nursing staff spends with residents. The information is presented with comparisons between the state averages and national averages for each category. For instance, nurses at Beaumont at University Campus spend an average of 1 hour and 39 minutes with patients, only one minute behind the national average. Users can even access the general results of previous fire and health inspections, with citations for an violations the facility may have received. This is the seventh year the magazine...

Boston Scientific Purchases American Medical Systems Unit for 1.6 Billion

Boston Scientific, a Marlborough-based life sciences company, announced on Monday that it has agreed to acquire the urology division of American Medical Systems for $1.6 billion. Boston Scientific expects to close the acquisition in the third quarter of 2015. This will be the company’s largest acquisition since it purchased Guidant Corp, a manufacturer of cardiovascular products, in 2006 for $27.2 billion. American Medical Systems (AMS), a division of Endo International, published reports last week that Boston Scientific was to close a deal with Endo for an unspecified AMS unit. The urology unit of AMS, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, employs roughly 800 workers worldwide. It covers the men’s health and prostate health divisions of AMS. The unit is being sold for $1.6 billion up front, plus a potential for another $50 million based on the unit’s sales in 2016. Acquisition of the urology branch encompasses AMS products that treat erectile dysfunction, male urinary incontinence, and benign prostatic hyperplasia. Boston Scientific (BSX) states the company’s technologies complement their portfolio of products that treat other urological conditions, including kidney stones, pelvic organ prolapse, female incontinence and abnormal uterine bleeding. This follows their purchase of Bayer AG and IOGyn last year. IOGyn, based in California, received FDA approval for a system treating uterine fibroids and polyps. AMS products that treat urology related issues in women will not be included in the deal. Over the course of the previous year, the AMS unit generated $400 million in sales and adjusted operating income of about $130 million, with net income of around $60 million according to BSX. President and CEO of Boston Scientific, Mike Mahoney, expects the acquisition will create a business with annual sales of nearly $1 billion and will enable “strong future growth prospects through portfolio innovation and international market expansion.” BSX anticipates more than $50 million in annual pre-tax cost savings by...

Employee Engagement and Wellness Top Priorities

Employee engagement and wellness continues to be a hot topic in business circles, as executives look for more ways to increase productivity and boost growth. At the same time, the job market is improving enough that some managers are becoming concerned about ways to keep their best people. A recent report entitled “State of the Industry: Engagement & Wellness in 2015” by Virgin Pulse in partnership with Human Capital Media revealed some notable findings about the state of workforce engagement and wellness. The researchers conducted a survey of 1,400 Human Resources Management professionals to gain greater insight. The findings were eye-opening. The report found that managers and executives see employee engagement and wellness in starkly different ways. Executives feel that the two terms can be applied to the same workplace activities while managers are much more results oriented and break the link. When asked, over 77% of firms said they were not considering shifting to private health insurance. Twenty-six percent of firms are not even bothering to measure return on investment for their engagement and wellness programs. Those that do measure ROI, do so primarily based on reduction in insurance claims, while slightly over a quarter are measuring engagement goals. Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce commented on the report that due to the stress and competition of modern life, executives are continuing to make efforts to improve employee engagement and wellness. He noted “That has a major impact on how engaged and productive people are both on and off the job, so leading employers are taking steps to change that.” In that way, employers can keep their best people, improve productivity and create a healthier work...

The End of AstraZeneca in Westborough

The AstraZeneca plant in Westborough has announced it will shut its doors permanently by the end of 2015. This is the final step the company has taken to shut down the plant, having already decreased employee levels there from 800 to just 180.  More employees will be relieved by March, but others will remain employed until the company closes at the end of 2015. The closing of the facility means the city of Westborough will lose its biggest taxpayer. The AstraZeneca plant pays the city an estimated $2 million in total; $360,000 in property taxes and $1,548,547 for equipment taxes. Residents and businesses in Westborough will begin to feel the pinch of the revenue loss in fiscal year 2017. City officials hope to fill the vacancy quickly.   The building is 420,000 square feet and could be a great site for a wide spectrum of businesses. The AstraZeneca plant processed the asthma treatment Pulmicort Respules, which will now be produced at the company’s locations in Sweden and Australia. A company representative stated the move is to attain “increased efficiencies in our global supply chain.” AstraZeneca will continue to house its research-and-development operations in Massachusetts, with facilities in both Waltham and...

Medical Device Manufacturer Moves to Worcester

Cogmedix, a wholly owned subsidiary of Westborough-based Coghlin Companies Inc., recently announced the relocation of its world headquarters to 17 Briden Street in Worcester.  The medical device engineering and manufacturing services provider has become quite a success story in an increasingly important sector of the Commonwealth’s economy. Chris Coghlin, President and CEO of the Coghlin Companies, stated “We are very excited about the trajectory of Cogmedix and the recent relocation, renovation and expansion of this world-class facility. For more than 100 years, our family has shared a deep-rooted passion for the economic success of Worcester and its surrounding communities, and we look forward to adding many new jobs in the greater Worcester area for years to come. The proximity of this facility lends itself well to attract highly skilled technicians as well as engineering and supply chain personnel as our growth continues into 2015 and beyond.” Matt Giza, Vice President and General Manager of Cogmedix, said, “This move was made necessary by our steady pattern of growth. We really needed the additional space and these newly outfitted facilities are more than twice the size of our former location. This expansion will allow us to increase capacity to accommodate the needs of our customers, both existing and new, as well as provide improved inventory and supply chain management operations.” Addressing Cogmedix’ growing niche in manufacturing finished laser and optically-based medical devices, Giza noted that upgrades included the installation of five purpose-built, independently climate-controlled, laser-safe test labs. Amenities include new cafeteria spaces, modern conference rooms, and a new Customer Convenience Center featuring fully equipped workspaces exclusively for visiting clients to enable a more intimate and efficient product launch experience with total transparency. In addition to expanded production capacity and other benefits made possible by the much larger facility, the address itself has significant advantages. “Our new location,” Giza explained, “is at...

Harvard Pilgrim Acquires TrestleTree

Wellesley, MA–based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care announced Friday that it has purchased Arkansas-based TrestleTree, Inc., provider of lifestyle health behavior change coaching. Harvard Pilgrim’s interest in TrestleTree developed because of their software, which supports and monitors patient progress in such programs as smoking cessation, health-risk assessment, weight and stress management, exercise monitoring; it also analyzes gaps in care. “TrestleTree’s approach has achieved measurable and sustainable change for employees and their families, regardless of motivation level or severity of condition that has resulted in lower healthcare costs for employers,” a Harvard Pilgrim spokesperson said. “We are thrilled to offer our employers TrestleTree’s proven methods for health transformation, ” Deb Hodges, Health Plans, Inc. president, said in the statement. “This acquisition complements our existing integrated care management and third-party administration services, enabling us to offer higher-level risk management and cost savings for...

Shire Moving Headquarters to Lexington

Pharmaceutical company Shire, PLC says its plans to make Lexington, Massachusetts its U.S. operational headquarters and will begin the transfer of more than 500 jobs there from its Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, site. The drugmaker is headquartered on the British island of Jersey and currently has about 5,000 employees around the world, including 1,300 in Lexington and about 970 in Chesterbrook. Shire said Wednesday that the transition is part of a larger effort to increase efficiency and streamline its business globally through two principal locations – Massachusetts and Switzerland – with support from a number of regional and country-based offices around the world. According to company representatives, condensing operations into two principle locations will save $25 million annually and is expected to strengthen collaboration and research. Shire plans to move the employees in several phases, beginning in the first quarter of 2015 and projecting completion by the first quarter of 2016. Employees who are directly impacted but do not relocate will be offered severance, outplacement service and other employee assistance. James Bowling, interim chief financial officer, will leave the company in February and Jeff Poulton, its head of investor relations, will assume the role of interim CFO in January. Shares of Shire traded in the U.S. slipped $1.22 to $208.78 in afternoon trading, in line with broader market...

UMMS Receives Grant of $7.5M to Fight Ebola

In an effort to help fight the spread of Ebola, The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) announced last Thursday that it received an award of $7.5 million to provide much needed resources to fight Ebola in Liberia. The generous endowment will help provide immediate assistance to the West African country by supplying disaster relief and management teams, disease specialists and physicians. UMMS currently has existing programs that provide training, education and medical supplies to Liberia. With this new grant, it will expand and help to further the institutions objectives and ongoing efforts for much needed health care services for Liberian citizens. Since the crisis began, UMMS and their clinical partners UMass Memorial Health Care, have managed to send two shipments to West Africa of personal protection equipment that they managed to collect in response to this serious outbreak. Faculty members of UMMS applied for this grant through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation who had already donated $100 million to the Tackle Ebola non-profit campaign recently. The funding is desperately needed and will provide for proper training, larger facilities and medical personnel that can respond adequately to this epidemic. The relief efforts will be directed and overseen by associate professor of pediatrics, Dr. Patricia McQuilkin, and Dr. Michelle Niescierenko, an emergency pediatrician and a director at Boston Children’s Hospital for the Global Health Program. Through a collaboration of efforts from institutions like UMMS, non-governmental organizations and other partnerships, the resources needed to combat Ebola can continue to be supplied to this economically disadvantaged country. With the virus reaching over 4,900 deaths and an anticipated 20,000 reported cases by November, according to the World Health Organization, the disaster relief funding comes at a much needed and crucial...

Are Massachusetts’ Medical Records Good Enough to Help Fight Ebola?

Electronic medical records are meant to be helpful for all medical professionals. However, if we look at the case of the first person to die from Ebola in America, some of these records are clearly not up to snuff . When Thomas Eric Duncan went into the hospital complaining of not feeling well, he noted that he had been to West Africa. Hospital staff did not blink an eye, and his medical records did not flag him as a health risk. This incident illustrates the point that a gap in the system exists, and that this must be addressed in all medical facilities across the state and the nation. When medical professionals are accessing electronic medical records, they need to be presented with system alerts that will tell them what the best protocol dictates. If you put a dangerous travel location into the system, it should warn you of imminent danger. People who have traveled to Africa during the Ebola epidemic should be flagged immediately, and the medical system should be prepared to warn doctors and nurses of travel advisories. These advisories should be no different than the travel advisories issued by the State Department. These records can help doctors and nurses treat people more quickly, but they are useless if they are not noted properly. Perhaps, if Thomas Eric Duncan had gone to another hospital, it is possible that properly notated medical records could have saved his life. Also, it is possible that the system could have saved people who might have been exposed inside the hospital. Electronic medical records in Massachusetts are very clever, but they are not quite strong enough to protect all doctors, nurses and patients. These medical record systems need to be fitted with travel advisories and other alerts that will warn medical professionals of a potential threat. This could save further lives and prevent an epidemic here...

Massachusetts Emerging as Robotics Leader

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one need not look very hard to find robots under construction, being tested or in action. The state is fast becoming the robotics capital of the country. A long list of companies make their headquarters here including iRobot Corporation, the creators of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. Bluefin Robotics Corporation manufactures underwater units, CyPhyWorks Incorporated designs spying hover crafts and Rethink Robotics creates robots used in manufacturing. Massachusetts also boasts MIT and WPI, both schools that remain on the cutting edge of developing new technology every year. Altogether, there are 100 robotic companies and 35 research and development facilities that design and manufacture robots for consumer, industrial, law enforcement, medical, military and research purposes. In the past four years alone, 11 new companies emerged. Massachusetts sells and exports more robots than any other location on the planet. Studies estimate that annual sales are close to $2 billion. The industry also currently employs approximately 3,200 people. Robotics companies are thriving in the state, as manufacturers and other organizations are expressing an ever-growing desire to incorporate the machines into daily operations. While some fear that the automated devices will replace humans in the employment sector, the machines are largely being created to perform the work, not replace worker. In military scenarios for example, robots have the capability of entering dangerous areas, which saves the lives of troops. The phenomenal growth of robotics also influenced the University of Massachusetts Lowell to construct the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation Center. The 10,000 square foot facility will serve as the testing grounds for manufacturers desiring to test their robots in a variety of environments. The site will feature indoor and outdoor testing centers that include sand pits and splash pools. The ideal location means that the facility will be readily accessible to dozens of companies. Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council chief executive...

Two Atrius Health Providers Merging in 2015

Two major healthcare provider organizations will be ringing in the New Year by breaking away from Atrius Health. Worcester-based Reliant Medical Group and Southboro Medical Group have announced their merger plans will take effect on January 1, 2015.  The two will merge together into a new organization that will keep each group’s identity separate. Once the merger is complete, they will have formed a healthcare provider that can offer the services of some 300 doctors along with more than 2,000 other healthcare professionals to serve more than a quarter of a million patients living throughout Central Massachusetts and the MetroWest region. Formerly known as the Fallon Clinic, Reliant has 20 locations employing 2100 individuals throughout greater Worcester. The smaller Southboro Medical Group has only about one-fourth the number of employees spread throughout its four offices, located in Framingham, Westborough, Southborough and Milford. Each  organization plans on being known by its current name rather than having the merger create a new name or identity. Reliant and Southboro officials first announced plans for the merger, the details of which have yet to be released, at the end of summer. After Atrius Health seriously considered pursuing the merger of all of its network of six medical groups, Southboro and Reliant decided it was best to establish their own merger free and clear of Atrius. In early 2014, Reliant premiered a medical office at the main medical center operated by Southboro, which gave the two healthcare providers a small taste of what it would be like to be in permanent partnership together. Southboro Medical has already been supplying one of the Reliant offices in Central Massachusetts with the services of one of its physicians to assist in patient care...

Ebola and the Economy

Unless you’ve been under quarantine for the past few weeks, you know that Ebola has once again reared its ugly head, causing widespread concern – bordering on panic in some quarters – about the possibility of a global pandemic. How realistic a possibility is this?  Could it actually happen? Frankly, it’s still too early to say one way or the other. However, it’s not too soon to make some basic predictions about how some businesses will be affected should matters get much worse. Dr. Bruce Aylward is the Assistant Director General for the World Health Organization (WHO). He recently announced that organization’s prediction that the number of cases is expected to top 9000 by the end of this week, and the fatality rate of the current outbreak has risen from just under 50% to over 70%. When asked how the situation might evolve over the next 60 days, he warned: “We anticipate the number of cases occurring per week by that time to be somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 per week.” As in previous instances of global health scares, airlines, theaters, sports arenas, and other locations where large “fraternities of strangers” gather are sure to be the first to suffer the economic consequences of a population frightened into isolation. Participating in purely recreational activities will be weighed against the fear of contagion, and attendance is sure to plummet.  Schools, churches, and other venues where attendance is “less voluntary” will follow suit in very short order if the outbreak is not quickly reigned in. The WHO announced yesterday that the Ebola epidemic had officially been halted in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.  Sadly, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other nations in the region remain mired in the misery of a highly-contagious, incurable, deadly viral outbreak, and new cases are popping up around the globe on a daily basis.  Should this situation...

Worcester Chamber Says ‘No’ to All Four Ballot Questions

In November, voters across the Commonwealth will have the option to cast their vote for or against four positions that could impact business across the state. Recently, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce met to discuss each of these questions in detail and to develop a policy to assist its members with a better understanding of how their vote would impact the business environment in the community and beyond. The chamber ultimately took a negative position for each of the questions on the ballot, stating that the proposed initiates would be detrimental to business. In 2013, a law was passed tying the Massachusetts gas tax to the rate of inflation. This means the tax automatically adjusts every year without the legislature having to vote on it. This ballot question would repeal that automated yearly increase. The chamber noted that the additional gas tax will help fund needed infrastructure repairs throughout the state and are therefore against repealing the law. In 1983, Massachusetts instituted a 5-cent deposit on soda and beer bottles and cans. This question asks if that deposit requirement should be extended to include water, juice, and sports drink containers as well. The chamber stated that this proposed change would have a negative financial impact on bottlers, distributors and retailers who sell these drinks, and are therefore against the measure. In 2011, the Massachusetts legislature chose to allow casino gambling in Massachusetts. However, several citizens groups have come out strongly against legalized gambling and this question allows voters to express their opinion on the topic. While repealing the law may not impact Worcester, the chamber believes that the proposed initiative would limit job growth on a statewide scale. The fourth question involves a proposal to alter how businesses provide paid and unpaid sick time to their staff members.  The measure would tie the number of sick days to the number of hours worked....

Should Partners HealthCare System be Allowed to Acquire More Boston-area Hospitals?

A three week comment period has been ordered by a Suffolk Superior Court Judge before a final ruling permitting or denying a settlement between Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and the giant Partners Healthcare System. The proposed deal allows Partners Healthcare to expand in size by acquiring three hospitals while hiring more employees in exchange for stricter controls on their pricing policies and increased regulatory oversight. Supporters of the deal argue that Partners Healthcare is likely to grow in size over time no matter what is done, therefore, the deal between the Attorney General and Partners Healthcare represents a chance for the government to have a role in monitoring and controlling their growth. Because of its size, Partners Healthcare has an outsized influence on prices and policies throughout the Massachusetts healthcare system. Coakley has argued that her agreement to allow some further growth, but only in exchange for greater regulation, represents a sensible balance between the rights of Partners Healthcare and the interests of healthcare consumers. Critics are calling the settlement a sweetheart deal. They say that the restrictions on Partners Healthcare are vague and mostly to be determined at a future date. They point out that Partners Healthcare will be allowed to increase their revenues ten-fold under the settlement, which critics say is too much for a company that is already four times bigger than their next largest competitor. They fear that the resulting overwhelming market dominance by Partners Healthcare will actually serve to increase prices rather than restrain them. Much controversy centers around the settlement’s placement of a cap on price increases based on the rate of inflation. Coakley believes this will place a significant break on future price increases, resulting in savings for consumers and taxpayers. Critics reply that economic indicators suggest that the rate of inflation will increase in coming years at rates that would...

Did the $525,000,000 Massachusetts Poured Into Biotech Generate 571 or 17,994 Jobs?

Yes? No? Maybe? The state of Massachusetts has spent $525 million encouraging the development of the state’s biotech industry, just over half of the $1 billion budgeted for this purpose. This public investment is being applied to grants, tax breaks and business loans for companies planning on moving to Massachusetts or expanding their operations in the state, and is intended to encourage a healthier state economy. But, just how many jobs are really being created by this taxpayer investment? One academic study by Pioneer Institute claims that Massachusetts’ $525 million directly created only 571 new jobs in life science industries. This figure applies to a period starting in 2009 and ending in 2013. In contrast, consider a study from Northeastern University that claims that between 2006 and 2012, life sciences and related industries added 17,944 jobs in the state. While Northeastern’s period of study doesn’t exactly match Pioneer Institute’s, the astounding variance of the results illustrate that questions remain about public investment Massachusetts biotech industry. Questions need to be answered. Should the government of Massachusetts take tax dollars collected from businesses and individuals and give them to other businesses? Should government be picking industry winners and consequently with businesses that pay taxes but don’t receive tax breaks and cash investment by government losers? If government should take money from some businesses and give it to other businesses, should the alleged investment be made from politicians who are being lobbied by special interests or independent professionals? Creating new jobs isn’t the only way public incentives can aid select businesses and potentially the economy of Massachusetts. Specifically for a more complete picture of how biotech incentives are working, other questions should be answered. For example, one could ask how much private capital biotech firms have attracted and what kinds of returns backers have seen on their investments. It is also useful to ask how much extra tax revenues the state may see from capital gains. Until questions like these are answered, it will remain impossible to know just...

Worcester on the Affordable Care Act

Recently a panel was held in Worcester to discuss health care reform. Secretary of administration and finance, Glen Shor acted as the keynote speaker and spoke positively on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He claimed it would help break down barriers to health care, along with assisting Massachusetts in receiving extra federal Medicaid reimbursements, that are issued to help cover uninsured or low-income patients. There is still plenty of room for improvement, and Shor is quoted saying, “Positive does not mean perfect.” Other speakers on the panel include Patrick Farrell, Peter J. Martin, Jack Myers and Jean Yang. Topics were covered such as small businesses incentives to provide health care and how company culture relates to health care. Peter Martin was optimistic stating that Massachusetts has  “a relatively easy path ahead of us.” Employers are encouraged to keep up with the law as it changes and take a look at what others in the industry are offering. Read more on the affordable care act panel here....

Millions in Massachusetts State Tax Credits To Life Science Companies

The 2012 Mass Tax Credit Transparency report revealed that about $17 million was awarded to life science companies. In total $159.2 million in state tax credits were issued this year, with 11% going to life science companies. The $17 million was distributed to 28 different companies to improve life science research and investments The largest category in the life science is the research credit, which received just under $7 million. This is due to the yearly increases in expenses in the state. $1.8 million of that seven went to Biogen Inc., a biotechnology company, that manufacturers drugs for the treatment of multiple sclerosis as well as other diseases. Shire Human Genetic Therapies Inc. was awarded $3 million, the largest amount for investment tax credit. In 2010 Shire began a $400 million venture into Lexington Technology Park. Along with investment and research credits, job credits were also awarded. Enough was issued to create at least 50 total new full-time jobs in the state of Massachusetts.   Read more details about the tax credits to life sciences companies here....

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