Evening Briefs: Protocols Followed | Mikula Retiring | Insurance Stability
9/15/20 6:44 PM
- Enbridge Followed Protocol After Gas Release, Secretary Says
- Mental Health Chief Retiring At End of the Month
- Fears of Major Changes in Health Insurance Haven't Materialized
Enbridge Followed Protocol After Gas Release, Secretary Says
The Baker administration's top environmental official said energy giant Enbridge followed all necessary safety and notification protocols after a Friday incident at the Weymouth compressor station prompted workers to release at least 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides did not offer specific details about the gasket failure that occurred at the facility on Friday, a failure which resulted in workers triggering an emergency shutdown system and venting an unspecified amount of gas from the compressor station. "We have rules and procedures around safety protocols for compressor stations across the state," Theoharides told reporters at an event Tuesday. "Those protocols were followed. The notification process that needs to happen was followed. For more details on the particular incident, you'd have to speak with the company, but in terms of the safety protocols that are in place for events of this nature, those were all followed." Theoharides added that Department of Environmental Protection staff is conducting unannounced site visits and that DEP is "very much committed to the ongoing safety of that facility." State officials will review the circumstances of the Weymouth incident, she said. Enbridge is required to notify the state of any unplanned gas releases above 10,000 cubic feet, and the emergency system has a capacity of 265,000 cubic feet. The company declined to specify the amount of gas vented. Following the emergency shutdown, Congressman Stephen Lynch demanded "immediate suspension" of operations at the station and asked federal authorities to intervene. - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
Mental Health Chief Retiring At End of the Month
Commissioner Joan Mikula plans to retire from state service at the start of next month after a 35-year career at the Department of Mental Health, she announced in an email to staff Tuesday. Before becoming commissioner of DMH in 2015, Mikula served for years as DMH's deputy commissioner for child and adolescent services. She first joined DMH in 1985. In the email announcing her retirement, Mikula reflected upon the changes she's seen in mental health in her three-plus decades working at DMH. "In my 35 years with DMH, we have experienced sweeping changes in our inpatient hospitals and in our community system. Nothing has been more foundational than the closure of state hospital inpatient beds across the age span and the shift in service provision to the community," she wrote. "This is reflected everywhere: in our relationships with other state health and human services agencies and acute community and free standing psychiatric hospitals and the role they play in providing inpatient services; in the growing voice of peers on all levels and across the age spectrum; in increased employment and housing opportunities and a belief in the importance of both for the individuals we serve; in our acknowledgment of the very real and distinct transition needs of older adolescents and young adults; in addressing the substance abuse treatment needs for many in our hospitals and community." Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders has tapped DMH's deputy commissioner for mental health services, Brooke Doyle, to take over as acting commissioner once Mikula departs. Mikula's retirement is effective Oct. 1. "I have had the privilege of working alongside Commissioner Joan Mikula throughout our respective careers, including during my service as Commissioner of Mental Health and for the last five years as I lead Health and Human Services, and you will not find a more ardent advocate, tireless leader, and respected colleague," Sudders said. "Throughout her career, Joan has been a leader in the fight for mental health parity and child and adolescent mental health. And as we navigated the public health crisis, Commissioner Mikula played a critical role to ensure DMH’s essential services were uninterrupted." - Colin A. Young/SHNS
Fears of Major Changes in Health Insurance Haven't Materialized
Massachusetts insurance regulators so far have not seen the dramatic changes in health insurance membership that they feared in the early stages of the COVID-19 emergency. Kevin Beagan, deputy commissioner of the Division of Insurance's Health Care Access Bureau, said at a Health Policy Commission meeting Tuesday that the division has been collecting monthly health insurance information since March and has seen "very little difference in membership where we expected major changes." As of July, according to Beagan's presentation, more than 6.3 million people were covered across all types of health insurance, including merged market, large-group, self-funded and governmental insurance like Medicare and Medicaid. The July total was 10,510 lower than April's total, with 40,500 fewer lives covered under commercial accounts and 30,000 more covered under governmental accounts, Beagan said. Beagan said the division had conversations with insurers about being flexible to maintain membership, encouraging them to extend grace periods and allow installment payments. "Because of that, we think that there has been much less disruption in membership than we had worried about," he said. Commission member Rick Lord said he'd expected a greater drop-off in employer-sponsored insurance, with a state unemployment rate of 16.1 percent. Beagan said the division was "very direct with all the carriers that they needed to take every effort imaginable in March and April to work with all the employers and find ways to continue coverage." "We continue to worry about the economy and how long this can continue," Beagan said. "We are hopeful that this will continue as long as needed, but we know there's a lot of small employers that are struggling, and it's necessary to have the safety nets of Medicare and Medicaid and even the Connector coverage for people to jump into." - Katie Lannan/SHNS
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