132 Arrested in Amherst

In Amherst on May 8, police arrested 132 peaceful protesters at UMass. The protesters were calling for the university to stop supporting Israel's war on Gaza. The UMass professors' union president said he supports the protesters. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author Colson Whitehead responded to the arrests by canceling his planned speech at the UMass graduation ceremony, set for May 18. Whitehead also won a MacArthur fellowship (the annual award is now $800,000) and the National Book Award.

The protesters have a web page at:



In a voice phone interview on May 9, Patricia Jehlen told the Valley Post it's likely a bill to improve nursing homes will pass the Massachusetts Senate next month. She is chair of the Senate elder affairs committee. “I'm optimistic,” Jehlen said.

The bill passed the House unanimously last year. Jehlen said she hopes to make three additions to the House version: protections for LGBTQ people, public guardians for patients who can't make their own decisions well and have not designated someone else to make decisions for them, and special equipment to help nurses lift patients who are very overweight.

Jehlen said, “Private equity involvement in health care is a big problem. Seventy percent of Massachusetts nursing homes are owned by for-profit corporations. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said the mortality rate from Covid was 40 percent higher in for-profit nursing homes.”

The Boston Globe editorial board wrote, “Both Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nursing homes, and Tim Foley, executive vice president of 1199SEIU, which represents nursing home workers, praised the bill’s focus on increasing accountability, transparency, and oversight while also addressing pressing workforce challenges.”

In July 2023, the Valley Post published a special investigation into nursing homes. It reads:

In the U.S., in general, rich people don't go to nursing homes. Same with prison. But for the rest of us, a nursing home is likely to be the place we spend the last months of our lives. The town of Killington, Vermont is 50 miles from Brattleboro as the crow flies. Killington doesn't have a nursing home, so most Killington people go to nursing homes in nearby Rutland, Vermont. The Gables and the Pines are two of the biggest. Neither responded to phone calls and emails seeking comment for this article, which compares nursing homes in Europe and the United States.

All of the nursing homes in Rutland are part of national chains. Middle class people pay about $12,000 a month for a private room, until their money runs out. Then they get to keep the room. If you don't have $12,000 a month to spend when you first need a nursing home, you will probably get a shared room. (A two-year contract is the norm, paid upfront.) In Rutland, about 20 percent of people in nursing homes have a private room.

In Europe, everyone gets a private room.

In the U.S., nursing home patients who abuse drugs or alcohol, or refuse to take prescribed medicine, are kicked out and often end up in homeless shelters. To get on Medicaid you need to spend all your money, including any pension or assets. (There may be an exception for one's primary residence.) There's a five-year “look back.”

U.S. News and World Report says Middlebury is one of the best colleges in the United States. Middlebury sociology professor Jamie McCallum told the Valley Post in a voice phone interview, “The epicenter of the Coronavirus in the U.S. was nursing homes. That wasn't the case in Europe. You've got to wonder why. It's likely because labor protections are different. You should talk to Mark Bergfeld.”

Bergfeld told the Valley Post in a voice phone interview, “In Italy, Spain and other European countries, even if a nursing home is non-union, under the law, they need to pay the union wage.”

Unionization rates in Europe dwarf those of the U.S. That's true at nursing homes, and in every other industry. Bergfeld works for a union that has a web site at UniGlobalUnion.org. He lives in Belgium, a country of 12 million that borders Germany. In general, workers make more money when they join a union. Most employers do everything possible to prevent their workers from organizing, according to a study by Cornell professor Kate Bronfenbrenner.

In Europe, every citizen gets a private room when they need a nursing home, regardless of how much money they have, Bergfeld said.

AARP's Vermont chapter declined to comment for this article. The most recent tax form that's publicly available for AARP, the national group, is from 2019 and says the group had assets of $1.5 billion. AARP has around 2,000 employees. The CEO made $1.3 million in 2019. AARP did not respond to an email seeking comment. Calling the number on their web site during regular business hours resulted in a long hold time with bad music and no way to leave voicemail.

Speaking of U.S. nursing homes in 2020, Betsy McCaughey told the New York Times, “They’re death pits."

She's a former lieutenant governor of New York who founded the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, an education campaign aimed at stopping hospital-acquired infections. McCaughey said U.S. nursing homes were overwhelmed before Covid. They were already crowded and understaffed. Covid produced "carnage” in nursing homes, she said. (source: NYT, April 17, 2020, "Coronavirus Claims at Least 6900 Nursing Home Deaths in US" by Farah Stockman, et al.)

Middlebury professor McCallum's 2022 book is “Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Struggle for Worker Justice.”

On May 2 in France, unions said they would strike June 6 to protest the government's plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Beginning in January 2023, more than a million French workers went on strike over this issue. The subsequent police crackdown was criticized by the Council of Europe. Founded in 1949, the Council has 46 member states, with a population of about 700 million people.


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