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Autos Special Coverage

Revving Up

By Mark Morris

 

In the early days of the pandemic, people huddled in their homes while streets were abandoned by nearly all traffic. Area auto dealers, understandably, braced for a slow year.

Instead, sales for many dealers hit record highs in 2020.

It was that kind of year for Jack Sarat, dealer principal for Sarat Ford, who said the pandemic definitely kept sales down in March. “After that, business rebounded, starting with a strong finish in April, and then every month following kept getting better.”

Auto-manufacturing facilities and many of their subcontractors around the world experienced shutdowns early in the pandemic. Steve Lewis, owner and president of Steve Lewis Subaru, said the delays kept inventories low at many dealerships and were also a factor in sluggish sales early in the spring.

“Once the factories were up and running again, around May or June, our inventory started to build back up, and it continues to build,” Lewis said. “Believe it or not, 2020 was our best year ever.”

“After [March], business rebounded, starting with a strong finish in April, and then every month following kept getting better.”

Even with inventory delays, Lewis continued to take pre-sell orders, so when new cars began rolling into the lot, nearly 65% of them were already sold.

Gary Rome, president of Gary Rome Auto Group, said the Korean factories where Hyundai and Kia are made were fortunate, with only brief shutdowns due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Hyundai and Kia never took their foot off the gas when the pandemic hit,” Rome said, which set the table for a strong year. “Our sales increased nearly 20% in 2020; it was one of the best years we’ve ever had.”

Every year, Presidents’ Day represents the first big sales push for local dealerships. Sarat pointed out that Presidents’ Day as a sales event tends to be more of a Northeast phenomenon.

Jack Sarat (left) and Jeff Sarat

Jack Sarat (left) and Jeff Sarat are among many area dealers reporting strong sales down the stretch in 2020 and into 2021.

“In Virginia, if you ask about the Presidents’ Day sale for cars, they don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he said, adding that ‘Presidents’ Month’ might be a more accurate name because the manufacturers heavily promote sales incentives throughout February.

With an already strong January in the books, Lewis approaches this Presidents’ Day understanding each year is a different experience.

“Last Presidents’ Day, we had a great weekend. Some years sales are magnificent, other years we are slow,” he said, adding that he defines the weekend as running from the Thursday before the holiday through Presidents’ Day Monday.

Good weather is the key to strong President’s Day sales, Rome said. Encouraging car sales on Presidents’ Day has often been a way for people to start thinking about spring and new beginnings.

Steve Lewis

“Once the factories were up and running again, around May or June, our inventory started to build back up, and it continues to build. Believe it or not, 2020 was our best year ever.”

This year, they may be especially clamoring for spring; on top of the normal winter doldrums, everyone has endured nearly a year of pandemic disruption and isolation. In that environment, auto dealers expect plenty of pent-up demand.

 

Rolling Along

Each of the dealers who spoke with BusinessWest shared his thoughts on why people continue to buy cars during the pandemic.

Those who did not suffer a job loss due to COVID-19 were able, in many cases, to increase their savings. After months of staying inside people, Lewis said, people started doing the math and realized that, with used-car values remaining high, they could trade up to a newer vehicle without spending lots of money.

“They capitalized on it, we capitalized on it, and everybody’s happy,” he added.

Sarat talked about customers who canceled vacations that involved air travel but still wanted to get away. “Several customers told me they were buying vehicles just so they could drive to their vacation,” he said.

While zero-percent interest rates across the industry have helped reluctant buyers, Rome said a job-assurance program gave Hyundai customers more comfort about making a purchase. “Through this program, if you buy a car and lose your job, Hyundai will make your payments for up to six months.”

He also believes battling COVID fatigue played a role in many vehicle-purchasing decisions. “People started realizing that life is short, and this might be a good time to do something nice for themselves.”

The pandemic has produced an interesting economic situation in which many homeowners made big investments in their homes, resulting in an extremely successful year for construction and landscape contractors. Sarat reaped the benefit of the contractors’ good fortune in his commercial-truck business. Contractors tend to replace their vehicles in December to obtain a tax credit against their income for the year, so it’s not unusual to see more sales activity then. Thus, the boom in home improvements in 2020 contributed to record sales in December for Sarat.

“We sold twice as many Super Duty trucks than a normal December,” he said. “Contractors were replacing vehicles and, in some cases, adding to their fleet.” Super Duty trucks are a popular choice among contractors because they can be adapted to a variety of trade professions.

While online shopping and purchasing a vehicle are not new, the pandemic brought out more people interested in using this no-touch approach to buying. Before the pandemic, Lewis noted, nearly 45% of his business was generated from the internet, where customers would do their research online, then come in for a test drive before buying the car. Since the pandemic, that’s increased to 70%.

“What’s different now is that people are taking delivery of vehicles they’ve never seen or have driven,” he said, adding that customers who do this are relying on the brand’s reputation.

Website upgrades since the pandemic allow Rome’s customers to complete their entire vehicle purchase online. From figuring out the value of a trade-in to applying for credit, the entire purchase or lease can be generated online and finished off with an electronic signature. “We will even bring the car to your home to test drive if you want,” he added.

Before internet research, the average customer would visit three or four dealers before purchasing a vehicle. Sarat cited industry statistics showing that customers now visit, on average, only 1.3 dealers before making a purchase. “Because they’ve done the research online, they’ve usually made a decision on what they want to buy before they even come in.”

 

Shifting Gears

For several years, buying trends have shifted away from passenger cars and toward SUVs and crossover vehicles.

“SUVs make up 68% of our sales, compared to sedans,” Rome said. “It used to be the inverse.”

He credits the shift to SUVs handling more like a car than earlier models, which were built on truck frames. He also noted that, as buyers age, they prefer a higher vehicle to make it easier to enter and exit.

“We won’t be back to normal for a while, but everything I read in automotive reports suggests new-car sales in 2021 are going to be very strong . I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”

Nearly every model in Lewis’ showroom is an SUV or crossover vehicle. “The crossover is really a replacement for the old station wagon,” he said. “It’s designed to open up the hatchback, put the back seats down, and throw in your junk.”

Ford is another of the many manufacturers moving away from traditional sedans and toward crossovers and SUVs. In addition, Sarat sells one of the most popular vehicles in the U.S., the Ford F-150 pickup truck, calling it his “bread and butter.”

Ford recently released a hybrid version of the popular pickup truck, and the new Ford Mustang Mach E is an all-electric vehicle. And Sarat has made a move toward all-electric vehicles among commercial cargo vans as well. Jeff Sarat, general sales manager, said these vans can run up to 300 miles a day and then plug in for recharging overnight.

“For business owners, it significantly reduces the cost of ownership,” he said, noting that an electric motor eliminates traditional maintenance and substantially reduces the vehicle’s carbon footprint. “We’ve got a lot of good things coming down the road, and our electric vehicles are going to be on people’s shopping list when they look for their next car.”

While hybrid and electric vehicle sales represent about 5% of Rome’s sales, he expects that number to rise to 10% soon.

“The manufacturers have jumped into this market with both feet. Within two years, we expect to offer a dozen hybrid or electric vehicles,” he said, adding that hybrid vehicles can improve mileage up to 140 miles per gallon, while some all-electric vehicles can go 386 miles on a full charge.

“In some ways, it’s like owning an iPhone, where you want to get a new one every three years to stay up on the latest technology,” he added.

Another shift this year has taken place in the used-car market. The economic shutdown last spring affected new-car production, and dealers found they had more empty spaces on their lots. “When fewer new vehicles are coming in, it also creates a lack of used inventory because people are not trading in their cars,” Sarat said.

For this reason, all the dealers we spoke with said used-car prices stayed high last year and will continue to remain strong in 2021.

Rome acknowledged the strength of the used-car market, but said his business runs somewhat counter to the normal trend.

“In our world, we sell about two new cars to every used car,” he explained. “If you can buy a new car with a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty for about the same price as a used car, why would you buy the used car?”

 

No Slowing Down

With his business finishing 2020 with a 19% sales increase, Rome predicts an 18% increase on top of last year’s success for 2021.

With his dealership in Hadley, Lewis noted that he is located two miles from five colleges and universities. When students and faculty all abandoned campus early in the pandemic, it cut deep into his business. He is hopeful these sales will return as everyone comes back to campus.

“Despite all that, we had our best year ever, and we’re hoping 2021 is as good as 2020,” he said.

Jack Sarat anticipates at least some supply disruptions due to COVID in 2021, but remains optimistic for a good year ahead as well.

“We won’t be back to normal for a while, but everything I read in automotive reports suggests new-car sales in 2021 are going to be very strong,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”

Event Galleries Women of Impact Women of Impact 2020

Late last month, BusinessWest staged its annual celebration of the Women of Impact, a recognition program launched in 2018. This was a virtual celebration because of the pandemic, but the eight honorees were certainly celebrated in style, with live virtual networking, lively chat during the presentation, poignant introductions of the honorees, and inspiring remarks from the Women of Impact themselves. The virtual program featured videos of and welcoming remarks from presenting sponsors Country Bank, Health New England, and TommyCar Auto Group. Other sponsors and partners include Comcast Business, WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield, and Chikmedia.

The honorees for 2020 are :

Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney; Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center; Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield; Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College; Toni Hendrix, director of Human Resources at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing; Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet; and Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.

Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors

Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors


 

Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney

Andrea Harrington, Berkshire County district attorney

 


 

Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center

Tania Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center


 

Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield

Helen Caulton-Harris, Health and Human Services commissioner for the city of Springfield

 


 

Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College

Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College

 


 

Toni Hendrix, director of Human Resources at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing

Toni Hendrix, director of Human Resources at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing


Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet

Sue Stubbs, president and CEO of ServiceNet


 

Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts

Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts

 

 


 

Construction Special Coverage

Space Jam

By Mark Morris

Nick Riley

Nick Riley says he had to reschedule in-home jobs at the start of the pandemic until he could figure out how to do them safely.

For home builders in Western Mass., 2020 brought opportunity and challenge in equal measure.

For example, Nick Riley, owner of N. Riley Construction, said 2020 was his best year based on the number of projects, but COVID-19 posed obstacles to nearly all facets of the job. In fact, when the pandemic first arrived, he rescheduled all his in-home projects until he could learn how to safely do those jobs.

“We were fortunate that we had several new construction projects that kept us working until we could figure out the right way to get our in-home jobs done,” Riley said.

Other home builders shared similar stories of adjusting to a new reality on the fly.

When many industries were mandated to stop working back in March, home builders were deemed an essential business by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration. That was the right call, said Bill Laplante, president of Laplante Construction. “We had projects with critical work that needed to be completed so people, in some cases, could get back into their homes.”

“We had to postpone jobs like kitchen renovations where people were still trying to live in the space we were working on.”

The builders who spoke with BusinessWest all construct new houses as well as additions and renovations to existing homes. On balance, they say, renovations and additions account for more business than new home construction.

“Most of the calls we get are from people who want to stay where they are, so many of them are looking to build additions or do a renovation,” said A.J. Crane, partner at A. Crane Construction.

Of course, staying put became nearly universal as COVID-19 mandates resulted in many people working from home. Even those who continued to work at their place of business found themselves at home more often because so many recreational activities and destinations had been curtailed or shut down.

And that posed opportunity for builders. As Laplante observed, the more time people spend at home, the more looking around they do. “They start thinking about adding a room or renovating part of the house to make their space more comfortable.”

In the age of COVID, that means builders must approach job sites differently than in the past. For starters, more people — both adults and children — are likely to be at home while the work is getting done. While workers follow screening protocols before going into the home and wear PPE once there, Laplante instructs his crews to isolate the work area from the residents as much as possible. That’s easy to do for additions and outside renovations, but some work is just more intrusive.

“We had to postpone jobs like kitchen renovations where people were still trying to live in the space we were working on,” he said, adding that other projects were pushed off because customers were simply not yet comfortable with outside workers in their homes during the pandemic.

But enough homeowners were OK with their presence to generate a successful, if unusual, year for the home-building and renovation industry.

 

Slow-building Issues

Keeping work crews and homeowners safe was only one challenge builders faced due to COVID-19. In a normal year, the process of getting a permit for a new home or addition is fairly straightforward. Builders bring plans to the appropriate municipal office and pick up the permit a week or two later. As COVID-19 shifted city and town business to e-mails and Zoom calls, it delayed the permitting process — in some cases, for months.

“When you go down the street to the local lumber yard to pick up a pressure-treated two-by-four and they don’t have any, it throws you for a loop.”

Meanwhile, supply-chain shortages of common consumer goods such as toilet paper and cleaning products marked the early days of the pandemic. The manufacturing supply chain around the world was disrupted for many building products as well. Riley said appliances and electrical components such as circuit breakers were often delayed by as much as three or four months. As another example, Crane learned that window companies were having trouble getting glass.

“As a result, we were only getting three-fourths of the windows we ordered for a job,” he said. “This created a delay that frustrates the homeowner and puts a big dent into our profit margin.”

In short, COVID-19 kept people at home, they wanted to improve their space, creating high demand for building materials at a time when many manufacturers were already experiencing delays due to the coronavirus, resulting in shortages. And in the wake of those delays, price increases followed.

Andy Crane

Andy Crane says he wants to present a home show this year, but only if he can do so safely.

“We saw a 45% spike in the cost of building materials,” Laplante said. “That was difficult to deal with because we had jobs that were already under contract.”

Shortages of special-order or custom materials were no surprise to the builders, but everyday items were affected, too.

“When you go down the street to the local lumber yard to pick up a pressure-treated two-by-four and they don’t have any, it throws you for a loop,” Crane said.

While they acknowledge that delays, shortages, and price hikes will be here for the near term, all three builders are optimistic about 2021. Because mortgage interest rates remain at historic lows, Riley does not expect a slowdown anytime soon. “For 2021, our company is operating full steam ahead for both new construction and remodeling projects.”

“I know a lot of folks who switched to remote work, and they are not going back into the office. I believe people working from home or their vacation home will continue into the foreseeable future.”

One challenge going forward, he noted, is finding property in Western Mass. to purchase at a reasonable price where he can make a profit on new construction.

For 2021, Laplante has plenty of new construction and renovation projects in the pipeline both in Western Mass. and on Cape Cod, where he recently opened a satellite office.

“We’ve always done work on the Cape, but this is the first year we made it official with an office,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of activity and opportunity there.”

Expanding to Cape Cod is a bet Laplante is willing to make because he believes that the pandemic has severely shifted consumer trends. As he sees it, the people who would have sought out exotic travel to places like Europe are now spending their money on their home or investing in a vacation home close to where they live.

 

On with the Show?

For 66 years, hundreds of home projects started with a tour of the Western Mass Home and Garden Show held in late March on the Big E fairgrounds. In 2020, the show was canceled for the first time in its history as the initial wave of COVID-19 swept across Massachusetts just before the event.

Will there be a show in 2021? Andrew Crane, executive director of the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts, faces a common dilemma in this time of COVID-19: there is plenty of interest in holding the show, but no one knows if conditions will allow it to take place.

“When things clear up and people can safely go out and stay healthy, we will run a home show, and not until then,” he said. At the same time, his organization, which runs the home show, has nearly sold out all available booths.

“We don’t even have dates for when the home show will happen, but I sold two booths this week,” Crane said, noting that his members are involved in nearly all areas of home improvements. As most of them had success in 2020, they would like to keep the momentum going this year.

Bill Laplante

Bill Laplante says the more time people spend at home, the more they think about how to improve their homes.

When BusinessWest spoke with vendors in preparation for last year’s event, several said a key strength of the home show was the opportunity for people and contractors to speak with each other, as well as the ability to see and touch the latest products in home improvements.

Plexiglass dividers, one-way aisles, and mandatory mask wearing are among the different ways Crane and his staff are looking to configure this year’s show. He doesn’t want a situation, however, in which a member pays for an expensive booth only to allow one person at a time to visit.

“That’s not fair to the vendor or the people attending the show,” he said. “It’s not even fair to the folks who just drop by a booth to take the candy.”

Because planning events is so difficult these days, Crane continues to move forward in planning the home show, but understands that nothing is certain. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we don’t know if it’s a freight train or if it’s the vaccine coming to solve our problems.”

Even with an effective vaccination rollout, Laplante predicts the home-building industry will continue to thrive locally. In addition to new construction, he has several whole-house renovations in the works — projects in which an existing house is torn down and a new one is built on the same lot. With many projects in the pipeline, Laplante believes people have changed their behavior long-term, and the home will continue to be a focal point long after COVID-19 is under control.

“I know a lot of folks who switched to remote work, and they are not going back into the office,” he said. “I believe people working from home or their vacation home will continue into the foreseeable future.”

Business Talk Podcast

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 45: Dec. 28, 2020

George O’Brien talks with Bob Nakosteen, a professor of Economics at the UMass Isenberg School of Management

On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Bob Nakosteen, a professor of Economics at the UMass Isenberg School of Management. The two discuss the economy, the outlook for 2021, and the factors that will determine the shape of the recovery that most are predicting. The two also discuss the matter of pent-up demand for products and services as a result of the pandemic, how real this demand will be, and how it will determine to what extent businesses can bounce back from a most difficult year. It’s must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk.

 

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COVID-19 Features

Let There Be Light

Judy Matt says the Spirit of Springfield (SOS) exists for one reason — to entertain residents across the region and create some memories.

It hasn’t been able to do any of that to this point in 2020, obviously, and Matt, the long-time executive director of the nonprofit agency, has been frustrated and disappointed by this reality. Annual events such as the pancake breakfast (long heralded as the world’s largest), the Fourth of July fireworks, and the Big Balloon Parade have been wiped off the calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there remains uncertainty about whether any of those can be staged in 2021.

Meanwhile, at the SOS, with little revenue coming in other than a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and the proceeds from the annual golf tournament, the staff — and that includes Matt — have been on unemployment for at least some of this year, although she has continued to come to the office every day.

But there will be one bright spot as a very trying year — for both the region and the SOS — comes to a close, as the necessary approvals (and many of them were required) have been received to stage Bright Nights in Forest Park from Nov. 25 to Jan. 6.

Things won’t be exactly the same — there will be new restrictions on everything from the hours of operation (the front gate will have to be shut at 8:45 p.m.) to how tickets are paid for (no cash, for example) — and the the gift shop in the park will be closed, although a facility will open downtown in the Springfield Visitors Center. And no one will be allowed to get out of their cars under any circumstances.

“Everyone has indicated to us that they think it’s going to be the best one we’ve had.”

But just being able to have Bright Nights will provide a huge boost for the region and the Spirit of Springfield, Matt said. “The region needs Bright Nights, now more than ever. It’s been a long, trying year for everyone.”

Bright Nights will go on in 2020

There will be some new restrictions on hours, method of payment, and other matters, Judy Matt says, but Bright Nights will go on in 2020, a bright spot in an otherwise dark year.

But while the region needs Bright Nights, so too does the Spirit of Springfield, which relies on the income from this signature event to help carry out its mission and present those other annual gatherings listed earlier.

So Matt and others will be keeping their fingers crossed on the weather — past history has shown that a few snowstorms can wreak havoc on the bottom line — while trying to make the most of the opportunity it has been given to stage Bright Nights in the middle of a pandemic.

And early indications are that, despite some restrictions on the hours and other factors, this could be one of the best seasons in the 26-year history of the Bright Nights, given what kind of year it’s been and the need for some kind of relief valve, especially as the holiday season approaches.

“Everyone has indicated to us that they think it’s going to be the best one we’ve had,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, while it might well achieve that status, this year’s Bright Nights will be challenged by the restrictions imposed upon it by city and state officials, especially the shortened hours of operation.

“We are theoretically losing 39 hours during which we could have been selling tickets — in the past, we had a lot of nights where we were open ’til 11,” she said, adding that, with vehicles going through at the rate of 300 per hour, those lost hours will hurt.

The city has allowed Bright Nights to stay open an additional three days, she went on, adding that, while this will help, the volume of traffic through the displays decreases markedly after Jan. 1.

“I can keep talking about what we can’t do and what we won’t have,” she said. “But we’re just very grateful to be able to do this; it’s important that this region has Bright Nights this year.”

As for what comes after Bright Nights … Matt said there are certainly question marks about whether the SOS will be able to get back into the entertainment business full-time next year, but she and her staff have to plan as if that is going to be the case.

But if the current conditions continue well into next year, the agency will be facing some hard questions. In addition to the events being wiped off the slate, COVID-19 also prohibited the agency from staging its annual Bright Nights Ball, which traditionally nets the SOS $50,000 to $60,000 for operating expenses.

Without that revenue, the agency needs a very solid year for Bright Nights and probably other forms of help, such as that small PPP loan it received last spring, which enabled a few of the staff members to remain on the payroll.

“We’re trying to figure it all out,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re hoping we have a good year for Bright Nights; if we have a good Bright Nights, that will take us into March or April. After that … we’ll have to see what happens.”

While the long-term picture is clouded by question marks, the immediate future is bright — or at least brighter — now that the agency has been given the green light to continue what has become a holiday tradition, not just for those in this region, but for those who travel to it to enjoy what has been recognized among the top holiday lighting displays in the country.

The pandemic has turned out the lights on a great many institutions and activities this year, but not these lights.

It won’t be exactly the same — nothing is in the middle of a pandemic — but this impressive show will go on.

 

—George O’Brien

Opinion

Editorial

As the region pauses to celebrate Thanksgiving and start the holiday season, many are counting down the days until this most painful of years comes to a close.

For the business community especially, 2020 has been a year of never-ending challenges, more uncertainty than anyone would ever want, and decisions that only come in two varieties — difficult and really difficult. Nothing has come easy.

And while none of this will magically end when the calendar gets flipped to 2021, it will be good to put this year in our collective rear-view mirror.

As we begin our work reflecting on this year — and there will be a lot of that, even as we brace for times that could be even more difficult, if that’s possible — it is easy to focus on all the negative. And we’ve done enough of that ourselves.

But we want to take another opportunity to recognize and applaud the fighting spirit of the region’s business community and the manner in which it has responded to all that has been thrown at it with imagination and true resolve.

We saw another example recently when the Big E, which has been continually hammered by state restrictions regarding large events, and had to cancel its annual 17-day fair, came up with a unique ‘golden-ticket’ promotion.

And there really is a lot that has been thrown at our businesses — including draconian measures taken in the name of flattening the curve and ever-changing guidance and regulations that often make it so what you were doing last week is impossible to do this week. But, as we said, businesses have responded, and in creative, determined fashion.

We saw another example recently when the Big E, which has been continually hammered by state restrictions regarding large events, and had to cancel its annual 17-day fair, came up with a unique ‘golden-ticket’ promotion.

Inspired by Willy Wonka, or so we’ve been told, the promotion involves $1,000 golden tickets that enable the purchaser and a companion lifetime entrance to the Big E, along with a number of other perks.

From what we hear, the 100 tickets sold in less than two minutes once they officially went on sale.

Realistically, $100,000 is a tiny fraction of the Big E’s annual budget, and this promotion is not going to make a serious dent in the staggering losses the company has suffered this year. But it helps — in this trying year, every single dollar helps. And the golden ticket is a perfect example of how companies have had to look beyond what they’ve done, look beyond what they know — and find ways to generate revenue and keep people employed until that day when the clouds will finally break.

But it’s just one example. There are plenty of others.

We’ve seen restaurants get creative and entrepreneurial in their efforts to use outdoor dining, delivery, and curbside service to somehow keep their doors open. We’ve seen event venues and production companies make the difficult adjustment to hybrid and virtual events. We’ve seen nonprofits pivot and use these virtual events to raise money so they can continue to carry out their missions. We’ve seen manufacturers retool to one extent or another and shift to making PPE and other in-demand items. Getting back to the Big E, we’ve seen it tack and put its large indoor spaces to use as storage facilities for cars, boats, and other items.

There are countless other examples of companies taking a very bad situation and making something of it. And as the year draws to a close, we believe these stories can and must serve as inspiration for what it is to come — probably several more months of challenges and those difficult decisions.

Not that anything was ever easy, but we certainly won’t see anything approaching easy for a while yet.

Which means we’ll need to keep exercising our collective imaginations and coming up with our own golden tickets.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 40: Nov. 23, 2020

George Interviews Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition

Eugene Cassidy

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition. The two discuss the pandemic and its impact not only on the Big E, but the region’s large and very important tourism and hospitality sector. They also discuss ways businesses like the Big E have pivoted and created new revenue streams, such as the Big E’s hugely successful Golden Ticket campaign. It’s must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk.

 

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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 39: Nov. 16, 2020

George O’Brien talks with Tony Cignoli, president of the A.L. Cignoli Company

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Tony Cignoli, president of the A.L. Cignoli Company, a political consulting firm. The two discuss what happened at the national election earlier this month — and what didn’t happen. They also discuss what the country, and specifically the business community, might expect from a Biden administration and how the president-elect and his team might address the pandemic and the significant damage it has already done to the economy.  It’s must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk.

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Coronavirus Health Care Special Coverage

Forward Thinking

A rundown of the big issues facing healthcare 20 years ago would, in some ways, be similar to the same list today, encompassing persistent challenges like hospital finances, staffing shortages in certain specialties, strategies to tackle substance abuse, and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Yet, the solutions to those issues have certainly evolved. For example, hospitals have seen a dramatic shift to accountable care, a model in which disparate providers work together and are paid for patient outcomes, not how many procedures they order up. And patients are increasingly active participants in their own care, as are senior-living residents and their families.

Technology has exploded as well over the past two decades, from robotic and minimally invasive surgery to increasingly targeted cancer treatments and rapid advances in prosthetics — not to mention the IT revolution, and the shift to electronic health records, patient portals, and, of course, everyone’s favorite pandemic-driven technology, telemedicine, which, most doctors agree, will continue to play a key role post-COVID-19.

Education has expanded as well. Stroke survival rates are higher these days, partly because people better understand the signs, and so are cancer survival rates, with the public more aware of the importance of screening. In fact, one huge story over the past 20 years has been the rise of preventive wellness and patient education — and keeping people out of the hospital as much as possible.

So, yes, many decades-old concerns of patients remain key concerns in 2020 (along with that whole pandemic thing that has dominated this unusual year). But the way we tackle those issues — with new ideas, new technology, and new facilities — is dramatically different.

To better paint that picture, we asked area health leaders what the next 20 years might hold in the areas of hospital administration, behavioral health, cancer care, and health education. On the following pages are their intriguing perspectives.

What’s Next for Hospitals

What’s Next in Behavioral Health

What’s Next in Cancer Care

What’s Next in Health Education


Opinion

A Chain Reaction of Impact

Back in 2007, BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty recognition program to celebrate the achievements of the region’s rising stars. A couple years later, it created Difference Makers, which recognizes individuals who are, well, making a difference in their communities. The Healthcare Heroes awards followed three years ago, recognizing high achievers in that important sector.

Clearly, we love identifying and writing about people and organizations that deserve the attention; we’re as inspired writing those stories as you (hopefully) are when you read them.

Plenty of women have been honored by all three programs — in many years, in fact, women comprise a majority of winners. So why did we launch the Women of Impact program in 2018? Is it really necessary?

In a word, yes. First of all, while there are many women of achievement in this region — and have been for a long time — not enough of them have received the recognition they are due.

But another reason, one that has become more clear over the first three cohorts of Women of Impact, is that this program spotlights ways in which honorees not only shine on their own, but help other women do the same.

In this year’s class alone, you can read about Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors, who has not only personally mentored many women over the years, but cultivated a management team entirely made up of women — in an industry still dominated by men.

And Pattie Hallberg, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts, who has devoted her professional life to understanding the issues and challenges facing women and girls, and finding proactive ways to address them.

And Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College, who understands how critical an affordable college education is to women, including low-income women, women of color, and working mothers, many of whom have been thrown for a loop by the pandemic and recession, and rely on HCC’s support to stay on their degree path.

The stories go on, in many cases echoing the honorees’ desire not only to succeed in life, but to make sure women following behind them have the tools they need to do the same and, in turn, inspire the next generation.

This is not the easiest time for women in the workforce. In fact, in September, about 617,000 women stopped working — about eight women for every man who dropped out, in fact — partly due to competing demands from home, especially young kids who need support with remote learning.

Even during more, well, normal times, BusinessWest has long told the stories of not only women who are helping their peers navigate challenges, but organizations like the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts, Girls Inc. of the Valley, and so many more who’ve made it their mission to help women succeed, now and in the future.

In short, women in this region are making an impact every day. We’re honored to be able to tell some of their stories.

 

Opinion

How to Handle Unemployment Fraud

By Chris Geehern

State officials and Massachusetts employers continue to deal with a surge of fraudulent unemployment-insurance claims generated as part of a national scheme using stolen personal information to attempt to access jobless benefits.

Criminal enterprises with access to stolen personal information from prior national data breaches have been taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by attempting to file large numbers of unemployment-benefit claims through the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) system.

DUA revealed in July that 58,000 fraudulent claims had been detected, preventing the loss of $158 million. At the time, the Department of Labor said it was working with the state and federal law enforcement to investigate the fraud and hired a private accounting firm to perform a forensic audit. Now, fake unemployment claims are on the rise once again as scammers appear to be targeting public employees.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) has also continued to receive reports from member companies about fraudulent unemployment claims. Companies report in some cases that employees have been unaware that a fraudulent claim has been filed in their names and are thus unable to bring the scam to the attention of their employers.

Employees and employers should work together to address the scam by reviewing a set of online identity-fraud tools developed by DUA. Meanwhile, state officials are providing guidance to employers on how each of the following situations where there is a questionable claim should be handled.

If an employer has received a ‘Confirmation of Employment’ letter, complete the form online. If the person still works for you, select ‘still employed part-time,’ even if the person is a full-time employee. If the person never worked for you, select ‘The claimant did not work for me during the time period stated.” The employer should encourage the employee to file a fraud report and follow the guidance at www.mass.gov/info-details/report-unemployment-benefits-fraud.

If an employer has received a ‘Lack of Work’ letter for an employee who either has never worked for the company or is employed by the company without any break in service for the past year, follow the same instructions as for a ‘Confirmation of Employment’ letter.

If the employer or employee is responding to a ‘Fact Finding Letter,’ complete the form as provided. Employers should inform employees who had a claim filed without their permission to visit the website noted above to report the fraudulent claim and find information and advice on other things they should do to protect their identity.

If an employer has received a ‘Monetary Determination’ with which they disagree, encourage the employee to file a fraud report and follow the guidance at the website.

If an employer is protesting a claim a result of a ‘Benefit Charge Statement’ they are in disagreement with, protests can only be filed online and not by any other mechanisms. On the online form, enter a comment saying ‘fraudulent claim’ and then provide information why you believe the claim was fraudulent (for example, the claimant still works for our company, and when we spoke to the claimant, they said they never filed a claim).

In a case where both the employer and the employee acknowledge the claim was not filed by the employee, the employer should fill in the protest form using their UI Online account, and the employee should file a fraud report and follow the guidance at the website noted above.

 

Chris Geehern is executive vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

 

Law

Taxing Decisions

By Hyman G. Darling, Esq.

As this article is being written, the election is pending, and many people are trying to consider the options relative to tax issues for the end of 2020 and going into 2021. Since no one can predict with 100% accuracy what the tax laws will be in the future, even beyond 2021, it is important to consider the options available. Taking action now will allow you (or your heirs) to save funds.

Hyman Darling

Hyman Darling

Before proceeding, a refresher on federal estate and gift taxes may be needed. The federal estate-tax and gift-tax exemption is what is known as a unified credit, which means the amount may be used to make gifts during one’s lifetime or at death, or a combination of both.

The amount currently is set at $11.58 million for 2020. If the law does not change, this amount is due to reduce to $5 million in 2026 (indexed for inflation as of 2010, so this amount will probably be $6 million). This means a person may gift up to $11.58 million during his or her lifetime or at death before any tax is due. If this amount is exceeded, a tax rate of 40% applies to the excess. Since the unified credit may be reduced, larger gifts may be considered prior to year-end before a new law is enacted next year that could be effective as of Jan. 1, 2021.

Many misconceptions apply to gifts, the most popular being the annual exclusion of $15,000 per recipient. Most people believe that, if the $15,000 amount is exceeded, the donor or the recipient must pay a tax. The law states that a person may gift up to $15,000 each year without reporting any gifts. If this amount is exceeded, then a gift-tax return is required to be filed by April 15 of the year following the gift.

But, again, no tax is due until the $11.58 million is exceeded. For example, if a person gifts to their child, there is a requirement to file a return, but the first $15,000 is ‘free,’ and the next $100,000 merely reduces the credit from $11.58 million to $11.48 million, which is still available to gift during the lifetime or at death. Thus, a person does not have to limit a gift to $15,000 as, in most cases, they will not be paying a tax. (Note that this rule is a tax rule, and does not have a relation to Medicaid planning, which treats all gifts as disqualifying for the five-year look-back period.)

If the estate credit is reduced after 2020, it is anticipated that the credit utilized this year will not adversely affect the amount a person will have available under a new law when he or she dies. So, if a person wishes to make significant gifts, they should make them before the end of the year to utilize as much of the credit as they may want.

For income-tax purposes, there are several options to consider. One easy one is the ‘above-the-line’ charitable deduction for up to $300 if given to a qualified charity. This is not for donations of clothing, as it must be a gift of cash, and it qualifies for everyone, even if a person is not itemizing.

Another significant option is that, in 2020, a minimum deduction is not required to be made from an IRA or other qualified plan. However, some people who have little to no other taxable income may still want to take a distribution as their tax bracket may be low enough to eliminate taxes this year.

“If the estate credit is reduced after 2020, it is anticipated that the credit utilized this year will not adversely affect the amount a person will have available under a new law when he or she dies. So, if a person wishes to make significant gifts, they should make them before the end of the year to utilize as much of the credit as they may want.”

In addition to this option, there is also the benefit for those age 70½ and older who may wish to make a donation to charity. Funds may be paid directly to a charity (or multiple charities) from the retirement account, and this donation will not be taxable income. The annual limit is $100,000, but the distribution does satisfy the required minimum distribution (RMD). If the taxpayer is going to make donations in any event, the IRA should be used to fund the donations.

The amount does not get added to taxable income, so the taxable amount will be less, Social Security payments may then not be taxable, and the Medicare premium will not be higher as the RMD does not get factored into the calculation.

If a taxpayer has losses to report, they may be taken and either reduce income up to $3,000 or perhaps offset gains of other assets. If a person has gains, they may wish to take the gain in 2020 with the anticipation that capital-gains rates could increase and/or income-tax rates may increase.

As with all tax and estate-planning considerations, there are many general rules with specific exceptions, so a qualified professional should be consulted prior to making any decisions. But be sure to get started soon, as decisions should be made and implemented prior the end of 2020.

 

Attorney Hyman G. Darling is a shareholder and the head of the probate/estates team at Bacon Wilson, P.C. He is a past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and has been a frequent presenter for the Massachusetts Bar Assoc., MCLE, and many Springfield civic and professional groups. He is a member of the Special Needs Alliance and many local planned-giving committees, as well as an adjunct faculty member in the LLM Program at Western New England University School of Law and Bay Path University; (413) 781-0560; [email protected]

Class of 2020 Event Galleries Special Coverage

2020 40 Under Forty Virtual-Hybrid Celebration
Tues., Oct. 13 & Wed., Oct. 14, 2020

Scenes from Tuesday's 4 PM Event

Scenes from Tuesday's 6:30 PM Event

Scenes from Wednesday's 4 PM Event

Scenes from Wednesday's 6:30 PM Event

Amid new restrictions imposed by the governor on large gatherings and with a strong desire to keep everyone safe, it was decided that the most prudent course was to instead celebrate our honorees’ accomplishments with a hybrid platform.

The hybrid event has been spread out over two days on Tues., Oct. 13 and Wed., Oct. 14. Each “mini-event” will allow 10 honorees to celebrate in person at the Upper Vista of the Log Cabin. For those who can’t join us in person, we’ve created a livestream option so friends and family can cheer on the Class of 2020 from the safety and comfort of their home. The new two-night ‘Virtual Access Pass’ allows you to see all 40 of this year’s honorees accept their awards on Tuesday, Oct. 13 and Wednesday, Oct. 14!

The 40 Under Forty program for 2020 is sponsored by PeoplesBank and Health New England (presenting sponsors); Comcast Business, Isenberg School of Management, and Mercedes-Benz of Springfield (sponsors); the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (partner); and WWLP 22 News/CW Springfield (exclusive media sponsor).

Please refer to the below list to see when your 40 Under Forty honoree will be accepting their award.

2020 Sponsors Videos

2020 Presenting Sponsors

2020 Sponsors

2020 Partner

2020 Exclusive Media Sponsor

Opinion

Editorial

 

Back in the spring of 2017, as BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, were preparing to launch a new recognition program focused on the region’s large and critically important healthcare sector, the magazines hosted a meeting with members named to an advisory board assembled to help guide the initiative off the drawing board.

The first question asked at that session concerned the name given to the program — Healthcare Heroes. “How do you define ‘hero?’” one panel member asked.

The reply was that the magazines wouldn’t be defining ‘hero.’ That task would fall to those nominating individuals, groups, and institutions, and the judges assigned the task of evaluating those nominations. In short, the answer to that question was ‘heroism is in the eye of the beholder — and there are heroes all across the broad healthcare sector in this region.’

Never has that sentiment been truer than during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, for this year’s program, the magazines opted not to use the traditional categories that have defined this program, such as ‘Caregiver,’ ‘Emerging Leader,’ ‘Innovation in Healthcare,’ and even ‘Lifetime Achievement,’ and instead seek general nominations involving those who in some way stepped up and stood out during this pandemic, on the theory that heroes came in all kinds of categories this year.

And we were right. Nominations were submitted for both individual EMTs and the CEOs of medical centers; for manufacturing companies that shifted their production lines to make PPE and individual home healthcare providers; for entire staffs at local hospitals and specific teams at area service providers.

Everyone nominated this year is a true hero, and the judges had a very difficult time deciding which stories were truly the best. But as the accounts  reveal, these judges did a commendable job.

These stories are, in a word, inspirational, and they clearly convey both the depth of the crisis and the determined, imaginative responses to it. These stories are touching, but they are also powerful in that they reveal the kind of dedicated, creative, and, above all, compassionate individuals working within the healthcare sector in this region.

The stories are all different, but the common theme is individuals, groups, and organizations seeing needs in the midst of this generational crisis, and rising to meet them, such as:

• The staff at Holyoke Medical Center coming together under very trying circumstances to take in residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home at the height of the tragedy there;

• Three patient advocates at Berkshire Health Systems leaving their behind-the-scenes jobs to become frontline nurses at a BHS facility on the other side of the state;

• Home health aide Jennifer Graham, a junior at Bay Path University, volunteering, when few others would, to work at emergency tents set up to care for the region’s homeless population;

• Baystate Health President and CEO Mark Keroack providing needed leadership to not only his institution, but the region and state as the pandemic reached this region last spring;

• The Nutrition Department at Greater Springfield Senior Services Inc., which creating new programs and protocols to ensure that hot meals were delivered to the area seniors who need them; and

• Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, director of Spiritual Life at JGS Lifecare, who stepped into the breach and provided needed guidance and support to residents, family members, and especially the staff members providing services at the height of the crisis.

These are just some of the stories in our special section introducing the Healthcare Heroes of 2020 that will resonate, possibly generate tears, and certainly leave you proud of this region and those individuals and institutions serving it.

Class of 2020 Event Galleries Special Coverage

It was a different kind of event, to be sure, but BusinessWest’s Difference Makers class of 2020 was celebrated in style on Sept. 24 at the Upper Vista at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. Honorees, their guests, and sponsors were in attendance at an event where safety and social distancing were paramount, while hundreds more took in the ceremonies remotely. Download the Program Guide HERE

Difference Makers is sponsored by Burkhart Pizzanelli, Mercy Medical Center, The Royal Law Firm, and TommyCar Auto Group, while the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament, MHA, and United Way of Pioneer Valley are partners.

The 2020 Virtual Event

Scenes from the 2020 Event

2020 Difference Makers

Christopher ‘Monte’ Belmonte

DJ at WRSI the River Radio

His March is Changing
The Conversation
on Food Insecurity

Ira Bryck

Consultant and Former Executive Director of the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley

He’s Helped Create
Fun, Imaginative
Learning Experiences

Sandy Cassanelli

CEO of Greeno Supply

She’s Fighting to Find a Cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer

Dianne
Fuller Doherty

Retired Director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center

She’s Retired … but Not from Her Role as a Difference Maker

Ronn Johnson

President and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Inc.

This Community Leader
Has Tackled Many Roles
With a Sense of Purpose

Steve Lowell

President and CEO of
Monson Savings Bank

Giving Back Has Always Been a Big Part of His Life — and His Work

Rick’s Place

This Unique Nonprofit Provides Support, Light in the Darkest of Times

2020 Sponsor Videos

2020 Sponsors

Pay it Forward Non-Profit Partners


Photography for this special section by Leah Martin Photography

Alumni Achievement Award Special Coverage

Class Acts

As they came together via Zoom to decide who would take home the coveted Alumni Achievement Award for 2020, the three judges who scored the nominations kept talking about how hard their final assignment was. Indeed, they admitted that all five finalists — Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group, Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics at Baystate Health; Mike Fenton, attorney with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin and a Springfield city councilor; Paul Kozub, founder of V-One Vodka; and James Leahy, assistant director of Business Development and Promotion Sales for the Massachusetts State Lottery and a Holyoke city councilor — were more than worthy of the honor, formerly known as the Continued Excellence Award. As they debated the merits of each finalist, the judges had a difficult time settling on one winner of this award, sponsored again this year by Health New England. So they instead decided to honor two.
Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group, with her children, Niko and Talia.

• Cosenzi, who adds this honor to two others from BusinessWest (40 Under Forty in 2012 and Women of Impact in 2019), was chosen both for what she’s done in business — expanding the auto group started by her father with several new dealerships — and for what’s she’s done in the community. Chief among her accomplishments in that latter category has been the creation of the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament, staged each year to raise funds to battle brain cancer, which claimed her father when he was just 52 years old.
Peter DePergola

Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics at Baystate Health.

• DePergola, who has emerged as not only a regional, but national and even international leader in the emerging field of bioethics, also now has three plaques from BusinessWest on his desk. Indeed, in addition to 40 Under Forty (class of 2015), he was also named a Healthcare Hero in the Emerging Leader category in 2018. The first, and still the only, bioethicist in this region, he recently wrote a white paper titled “Ethical Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Novel Coronovirus Disease,” published in the Online Journal of Health Ethics, and also served on the state’s Crisis Standards of Care Advisory Committee. BusinessWest congratulates these two deserving winners, who continue to raise the bar for professional and personal achievement in Western Mass.
Features

This Nonprofit Is Finding New Ways to Provide a ‘Safe Place’

Kelsey Andrews (third from left, with Therese Ross, program director; Bill Scatolini, board president; and Diane Murray, executive director) calls Rick’s Place “a wonderful support system” — and much more.

Diane Murray says that, like most nonprofits, Rick’s Place is responding to the pandemic in a proactive fashion.

In other words, this agency, founded to provide peer support to grieving families, and especially children, has, out of necessity, changed, pivoted, and in some ways reinvented itself, said Murray, its executive director, noting that much of this involves carrying out its mission in a virtual manner.

“As soon as we became aware that it wasn’t safe to have in-person meetings, we moved to a virtual format for all our peer-support groups,” she told BusinessWest. And that was very successful. We were surprised at how well children made that transition; it’s hard enough to be grieving and talk about it in person with your peers, but looking at a screen can be tricky. But we sent them activities, and they would complete them and bring them to the meeting. It’s worked quite well.”

As she noted, grieving and talking about loss among a group of peers is hard, but it has become a proven method for helping children and families cope with the loss of a loved one. And Rick’s Place has been bringing people together in this way and providing what many call a ‘safe place’ since 2007.

Its mission, and its success in carrying it out — which made the agency the latest of several nonprofits to be named Difference Makers by BusinessWest — was summed up succinctly and effectively by Program Director Therese Ross when we spoke with her back in February.

“It’s a unique grief journey, but it’s also a universal experience,” she noted. “To hear from other people how they manage when their child says this or does that, it’s real boots on the ground, people living it, and it’s really helpful.”

Providing such help was the overarching goal for the many friends of Rick Thorpe, the former football star and 1984 graduate at Minnechaug High School who was among the more than 1,100 people who died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He left behind his wife, Linda, and newborn daughter, Alexis. Searching for ways to memorialize Rick, friends and family members eventually turned to Alexis for inspiration and created a bereavement center in her honor.

In 2020, the work of this agency goes on, but obviously many things have changed, and in the meantime, new and different needs have emerged, said Murray, noting, as just one example, the restrictions placed on funeral services for the first several months of the pandemic.

“Deaths during the COVID era are so much more complicated for kids,” she explained. “Losing a grandparent or parent — and not being able to have the usual services you would have and seeing a large number of family and friends — has impacted the grief and made it more complicated. Also, in many cases, they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, and that makes the process so much more difficult. We’re focusing on these COVID-era issues with families and giving them information on how to start that grief journey.”

Overall, though, a movement to virtual services has been the biggest change brought about by COVID-19, Murray noted, adding that, in addition to virtual peer sessions, the agency is also conducting virtual training sessions with local school systems on the impact of grief on students. Meanwhile, she and others at the agency are talking with area schools about taking the popular eight-week ‘grief groups’ it had been offering to a virtual format now that school has started up again.

“The schools are where we see our most diverse population and students with the greatest economic need,” she explained. “Finding a way to continue those virtually is very important to us. We’re talking to some school counselors who are very invested in getting our programs into the schools virtually.”

Since 2007, Rick’s Place and its loyal supporters — and there are many of them — have been invested in providing much-needed support to those who are grieving. In the COVID-19 era, the word ‘place’ has taken on new meeting. Now, in many cases, it’s not an actual, physical place, but rather … well, a computer screen where people can still gather. And where they can share, cope, and learn together.

As Murray said, the agency has had to pivot and in some cases reinvent. But its vital mission, one that has made it a Difference Maker, remains unchanged.

—George O’Brien

Features

This Advocate and Cheerleader Remains Active on Many Fronts

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

When we first introduced Dianne Fuller Doherty back in February, we used the term ‘semi-retired’ to describe her status — and it’s the appropriate phrase to use.

Indeed, while she has stepped down from her role as director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Western Mass. office, she remains heavily involved in this region, and on a number of fronts — everything from mentoring young people, especially women, to serving on several boards and being part of a few prominent search committees, such as the one that eventually chose Robert Johnson to be the sixth president of Western New England University (see story, page 29).

And most, if not all, of her work has been in some way impacted by COVID-19, including that search at WNEU, and another at Tech Foundry.

“We never met any of the candidates — only the winner after he had been given the position,” she said of the WNEU search, noting that all interviews were conducted remotely, a process she didn’t think would be very effective, but ultimately proved to be. “When we started both these searches, I said, ‘how can we not meet these people?’ It turned out it was incredibly effective — you really got to know these candidates.”

Fuller Doherty’s commitment to remain involved in this region and be, in some respects, a cheerleader for it comes naturally. She’s been doing this she came to Western Mass. in the early ’70s after marrying attorney Paul Doherty, a community leader himself, who passed away several years ago. And she become involved with everything from the creation of the Women’s Fund — she was one of the original founders — to the growth and maturation and the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Over the course of her lengthy career, she was a business owner — she and partner Marsha Tzoumas started a marketing firm that bore their last names — and, as director of the Small Business Development Center, one who helped countless small businesses get off the ground and to that proverbial next level.

She has a great deal of experience in all matters of launching and operating a business, and she’s never been shy about sharing it with others.

As she told us in February, her MO has always been to provide a kind of tough love to entrepreneurs — in other words, be supportive whenever possible, but also honest and realistic, telling people what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.

“The best advice I give to people is to ask enough questions so that they can come to the right conclusion on whether this is the right time, or the right place, or the right financial backing to go forward,” she said when we first spoke with her. “You let them come to the decision about whether it’s a ‘no.’ And if it’s a ‘yes,’ then you just try to be as supportive as possible and it them know that there are going to be highs and lows in any business, and the challenges will come. But the rewards will come also.”

For Fuller Doherty, the biggest reward has been to see the region continue to grow, prosper, and meet the enormous potential she has always thought it possessed. Progress has come on a number of fronts, she said, listing everything from the advancement of women, thanks to groups like the Women’s Fund, to that entrepreneurial ecosystem, to the capital of the region, the city of Springfield.

She told BusinessWest she has always been focused on ‘what’s next’ for the region, and especially Springfield, and believes the answer may lie in housing.

“Education requirements dictate housing investment,” she explained. “And I think we can do a lot with housing; Springfield used to be the City of Homes, and I think it can come back to that.”

But there is work still to do on all these fronts, she acknowledged, and she wants to continue playing a meaningful role in all of it.

In other words, she has no intention of slowing down, even in the era of COVID-19, and this attitude, this mindset, certainly explains why she is a member of the Difference Makers class of 2020.

—George O’Brien

Features

COVID Has Brought New Challenges to an Already-intense Cancer Fight

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Sandy Cassanelli has always been a fighter.

Which is good, because these first nine months of 2020, the year of COVID, have tested her in every way imaginable.

Let’s start with her health. As most know, she was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer four years ago, and has been not only fighting that fight, but helping others fight it as well through the Breast Friends Fund, a charity that raises funds that go directly to metastatic breast-cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Having a terminal illness in the middle of a pandemic, though, brings even more challenges to the fore.

“There was the realization that this virus could kill me,” she said, noting that, for obvious reasons, she began working at home back in March. “And my husband, Craig, had to be careful to make sure he wasn’t bringing anything home to me; he would take off his clothes in the garage and run up to the shower every day. He jokes that I would spray Lysol on him before I would let him in the house.”

Meanwhile, as she started a new treatment regimen and underwent tests and biopsies, the protocols were much different.

“At Dana-Farber, my husband always comes with me — he’s never missed an appointment,” she explained. “But once everyone started locking down, only the patients could go, so I had to go from my first scans to see if my new treatment was working by myself. And since March, I’ve had to go to every appointment by myself. It’s been very challenging not to have the support of my husband.”

Let’s move on to her business that she manages with Craig — Greeno Supply. Near the top of the list of the products it supplies to a wide range of customers are a number of items in high demand but short supply during the pandemic — paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies … all those things. Getting them — and meeting the needs of customers — has been daunting, to say the least.

“It was very challenging — it was hard to get these things from our suppliers,” she said of products that ranged from those paper goods to gloves, masks, and other PPE. “We had to reinvent the wheel and go out to different suppliers just to get these items. And we’re still struggling — we’re still reinventing the wheel.”

And then, there’s family, or life at home, a phrase that has certainly taken on new meaning during this pandemic.

Cassanelli, like many parents, and especially many women, has been working at home and helping her children with school at home. In this case, the children were in eighth and 12th grade, respectively — big years, graduation years. Not a year one would want to spend confined at home.

“I’ve been battling for seven years, so my daughters are used to adversity and things not going the way normal life goes,” she explained. “They’ve been dealing with a lot, and they actually did really well because they know how to deal with adversity. But I’d have to say that when the final announcement came that they wouldn’t be going back to school and there was no graduation — that was probably the only time that tears flowed in my house.

“When I was first diagnosed with stage-4 cancer, the doctor set a goal for me and my older daughter Samantha — that I would get to see her graduate and walk across the stage” she went on. “So it was a double whammy — but we moved on.”

Overall, Cassanelli’s ability to meet all these challenges head on helps explain why she’s a Difference Maker in this memorable year.

It’s a mindset summed up perfectly by something she said to BusinessWest back in February while discussing her diagnosis and her approach to life.

“Does it suck? Yeah, it totally sucks. But me crawling up in a ball and putting the sheets up over my head is not going to fix anything, so I might as well just get up and go,” she said. “I try not to sweat the small stuff. I believe that every day is a gift, and I’m going to make the best of that day, and I’m going to be positive, because if I’m positive, then everyone around me is going to be positive.”

COVID-19 — and all that has thrown at her — isn’t small stuff. But she doesn’t seem to be sweating it, either.

—George O’Brien

Features

Former Family Business Center Leader Is Still Delivering Frank Talk

Ira Bryck spent 25 years as the executive director of the Family Business Center of the Pioneer Valley. And over that quarter-century, he left an indelible mark on those he helped through his rather unique style and ability to create impactful learning experiences.

These included plays he authored, dinner meetings with provocative speakers, and, quite often, frank talks about family businesses and whether people should be part of them or not.

And he continues to make a mark, even though he’s retired from the FBC, as it was called, and the center itself has gone out of business. He does it through a radio show with WHMP called The Western Mass. Business Show a variety of consulting work, and even his work in the COVID-19 era to help keep the residents of Amherst, where he has lived for some time, safe as college students return to campuses.

In all these settings and circumstances, Bryck speaks his mind, creates dialogue, and helps to generate progress in many forms. And that, in a nutshell — and he wrote a play called A Tough Nut to Crack — is why he is a member of the Difference Makers class of 2020.

He has decided not to join his fellow classmates for the ceremony on Sept. 24 due to a strong desire to help keep his family safe during this pandemic — two adult children and their families with New York addresses have moved in with him as they seek what amounts to higher ground during the pandemic — but he has definitely earned his place on the podium, even if he’ll be addressing his audience remotely.

That’s because, since being named director of the fledgling FBC in 1994, he has done things his way — and in an ultimately effective way. And he has helped educate and inspire an important, if often unrecognized, segment of the local economy — its family businesses.

They come in various shapes and sizes and cross a variety of sectors, but they share common issues and challenges. When we talked with Bryck in February, he compared small businesses to snowflakes in that no two are alike, and summoned that famous opening line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Bryck has addressed these issues and challenges in a manner that had members of the FBC describe him, alternately, as ‘communicator,’ ‘connector,’ ‘facilitator,’ and even ‘entertainer.’

One long-time member described his style and his approach this way: “He can take things that are very theoretical and make them realistic. It’s one thing to read a paper from a professor who deals in theory, but it that reality? Can that be applied to the everyday businessperson? Ira was able to translate those kinds of things.”

And he’s still doing all that, just in different settings and with different audiences. With his radio show, he just passed a milestone — his 300th interview.

“It’s a nice exercise to meet and interview someone every week,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun and a tremendous learning experience.”

Meanwhile, he’s also working with Giombetti Associates as a senior advisor working on personality assessments, coaching, and organizational development. He’s involved in several projects, including one with a private school in Springfield that is undergoing a change in leadership.

“We’re restructuring and creating much more of an idea system within their leadership team,” he explained, adding that he’s working on another project involving a Connecticut grower of plants and trees that is seeking to make structural changes and increase self-awareness and self-management.

He’s also coordinating a roundtable for area business owners. “We meet monthly and just explore people’s challenges and help each other think things through, and that also involves coaching,” he said, adding that he’s also involved with the family business center at Cornell University, participating in what he called a “speed-dating event involving mentors and mentees.”

“All this keeps me busy, but I’m only working about half as much as I used to,” he explained. “Which leaves me plenty of time of walk five to 10 miles a day, so I’ve lost 45 pounds.”

Overall, he’s still finding ways to educate — and also entertain, in some cases — while also making a mark on those he’s working with.

In short, he’s still very much making a difference in this region — and well beyond it.

—George O’Brien

Features

He Has Plans to Retire, but No Plans to Scale Back His Involvement

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

When we talked with Steve Lowell back in January, he related just how familiar he became with the commute from Cape Cod to Upton in the middle of the state, where he lived, earlier in his career.

That’s because, while he was working for a bank on the Cape, he also became heavily involved in the community there — as part of his work, but mostly because giving back is his MO. He recalled that he was on the Cape so much, many people thought he lived there.

When we reconnected several days ago, Lowell was again talking about this commute, but from a different perspective.

Indeed, only days after he was introduced as a member of the Difference Makers class of 2020 in February, Lowell announced he would be retiring as president and CEO of Monson Savings Bank, effective early next year, and stepping into a role new for this institution — chairman of the board. He and his wife, Anne, are in the process of relocating to the Cape, but he now keeps a small apartment in Brookfield and is there three or four nights a week, because he’s not only neck-deep in the transition of leadership at the bank (Dan Moriarty, the long-time CFO at the bank, has been named his successor), he’s still active in this region. Make that very active.

And he intends to remain involved with a number of organizations in this region, which means he’ll doing that commuting thing again.

“I’ll be around,” he said with conviction, he said, noting that’s not certain how long he will continue those living arrangements in Brookfield. “One way or another, I’ll be around.”

And while his work and that of his team at MSB has been somewhat different because of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as handling PPP loan applications, the basic formula hasn’t changed, he said, meaning Monson continues to fill the many roles of a community bank — and continues to search for new growth opportunities in a heavily banked region.

“In spite of COVID, we’ve moving forward, and we’re looking to the future,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the institution recently opened a new branch in East Longmeadow. “We’re trying to build an organization that is resilient enough to withstand not only this but anything else that might happen.”

While working to build this organization, Lowell is transitioning into his new role as chairman, one that will translate into a good deal of mentoring and also helping to guide the bank through a period that will likely be much more difficult than the one it just went through.

“I think 2021 is going to be an extremely challenging year, so I’m happy to stay involved and lend whatever expertise I can to them to make sure we keep things going in a really positive way,” he said. “I’m excited about that; I’m honored that they thought that this would be helpful, and I’m looking forward to it; I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Meanwhile, as noted earlier, he will continue a career-long pattern of being heavily involved in the community, work that has involved nonprofits and institutions ranging from the United Way of Pioneer Valley to Link to Libraries; Baystate Health’s Eastern Region (Wing Memorial and Mary Lane hospitals) to the Western Mass. Economic Development Council (EDC).

“They’ve asked me to stay on for another year as chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Eastern Region,” he said. “And I just got asked by Rick Sullivan [president and CEO of the EDC] to continue on as treasurer — he said, ‘even though you’re going to be down on the Cape, can you stay on as treasurer?’ And I said, ‘as long as you’ll have me.’”

That request, and his answer in the affirmative, both speak to why Lowell is a member of this Difference Makers class of 2020. He’s almost always said ‘yes’ when asked to serve, and, more importantly, he usually didn’t wait to be asked.

He noted that, as he was arriving in this region in the late spring of 2011, the region — and Main Street in Monson — were hit, and hit hard, by a tornado. And as he’s retiring — at least from his role as president and CEO — the world, and Main Street in Monson, are being hit, and hit hard, by a pandemic.

“People might be happy to see me go,” he joked.

That’s certainly not the case. Even more to the point, he won’t be going anywhere soon, except for that commute he knows all too well.

—George O’Brien

Features

Meeting Community Needs Has Become Even More Critical During a Difficult Year

Ronn Johnson has spent a lifetime improving the neighborhood of his youth — and impacting lives far beyond it.
(Photo by Leah Martin Photography)

When times got tougher for struggling families back in March, they appreciated any resources they could access, from emergency food supplies to educational assistance to … lotion?

“With children being home every day, parents were super stressed, and they needed a way to manage it all,” said Ronn Johnson, president and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Inc. in Springfield.

“We said, ‘let’s deliver pampering products to these women — lotions, bath oils, shower gels, facial scrubs — things they can use to pamper themselves with on occasion, once the children are down,” he told BusinessWest earlier this month. “With the response we got, it was like we’d given them a pot of gold — they said, ‘these are things I’ve never been able to get for myself.’”

Those items were complemented by deliveries of hard-to-find cleaning supplies and paper products. But they certainly didn’t replace the bread-and-butter services of the organization, from educational resources to healthy-food access.

The pandemic, in fact, only laid bare a growing need for such services — and new ways of delivering them.

“It was a tremendous challenge to pivot on a dime. We’ve had to restructure ourselves from being an after-school resource to being a remote-learning center,” Johnson said, noting that the organization serves many economically disadvantaged families that need extracurricular support and don’t want to have to choose between their kids and making a living. “Work is important to them, but their child’s education is also important. We’re one of the resources in the community trying to be responsive to the needs of children.”

The center has also expanded its emergency-food program, serving up to 400 people weekly. Even so, pantry volunteers weren’t seeing some of the faces they expected to see — mainly older people — and learned these regulars were staying at home because of fears for their health.

So Johnson talked to community partners, in particular Baystate Health, which helped procure a cargo van to deliver food to homes. The volunteer-driven delivery program began with about 10 recipients and now visits some 65 elderly, sick, and shut-in individuals every week.

Johnson’s work with MLK Family Services — the latest stop in a career dedicated to his community — is one reason he was chosen as a Difference Maker, along with his work with the Brianna Fund, named for his daughter, which has raised more than $750,000 over 22 years and helped 50 children with physical limitations access tools to improve their lives.

But he stresses that he can’t do his job alone. To serve 750 different people each week with after-school programs, college courses, family support, public-health outreach, sports programs, cultural activities, and more — with only about $1.6 million in annual funding — he relies not only on his team, but more than 100 volunteers.

They worked together to open summer camp this year, he noted. “That was well-thought-out; we assured we had all the safe distancing and PPE, and we made it work, with no incidents of the virus spreading. It was a real benefit to both children and their parents, to provide meaningful activities for them eight hours a day.”

Community members stepped up this spring and summer in other ways as well. For example, a woman came by in late March to donate a new laptop to the center, along with funds to distribute items like coloring books, flash cards, notebooks, crayons, and markers so kids could occupy themselves when holing up at home became the new normal.

Johnson also credited the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts for its financial support of the center, as well as donations that came in after Common Wealth Murals and Art for the Soul Gallery drew attention to the center in June with a mural, called “Say Their Names,” honoring individuals killed by police violence.

He’s equally gratified that people are talking.

“It’s been heartwarming and affirming that our white neighbors and other community members have extended their support to us, not only financially, but they’re looking to be engaged in conversations,” he said. “So many families from the suburbs and the hilltowns came to Mason Square to show their children this mural.”

It’s a conversation being held back on the national level by leaders who refuse to engage in these issues and create positive momentum, he added. Yet, he’s encouraged by young people of all races who are energized by fighting for social justice.

“That is very encouraging,” he said. “We need to build bridges to understanding and have it happen in a more global way than just these pockets of support.”

In the meantime, he’ll keep building bridges locally, and making a difference for families whose needs go much deeper than lotion.

But a little pampering never hurt.

—Joseph Bednar

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

Finalists for Award Are Leaders in Business — and in the Community

Launched in 2015, and known then as the Continued Excellence Award, BusinessWest’s Alumni Achievement Award recognizes a previous 40 Under Forty honoree who has continued to build on his or résumé as a rising star in this region and leader both in business and within the community. The five finalists for 2020 — Carla Cosenzi, Peter DePergola, Mike Fenton, Paul Kozub, and James Leahy — epitomize what this award, sponsored by Health New England, is all about, and why it is among the most coveted of BusinessWest’s many awards.

 

Carla Cosenzi

She’s driven to succeed — in business and in the community

>>Read More


Peter Depergola

This pioneer remains on the leading edge in the field of bioethics

>>Read More


Mike Fenton

He has a passion for the law, and for serving his constituents

>>Read More


Paul Kozub

This entrepreneur — and his label — have come a long way in 15 years

>>Read More


James Leahy

This city leader has always been an ambassador — and a connector

>>Read More

 

 

 

 

Banking and Financial Services Coronavirus Special Coverage

Uncharted Waters

Michael Tucker

Michael Tucker, president of Greenfield Cooperative Bank.

It’s safe to say 2020 has been an unpredictable year, testing the ability of all businesses to be nimble. Matt Sosik thinks banks are passing that test.

“Community banks may seem like they’re a staid industry, but we’re actually very accustomed to change, and sometimes a fast pace to that change,” said Sosik, president of bankESB. “So we’re used to it. It’s not always visible from the outside, but culturally, we were very well-positioned to deal with the pandemic.

“The unique thing was that it just seemed to happen so fast. It was zero to 60, and you can’t always move at that pace,” he added, noting that bankESB is part of a family of three different banks with almost 500 employees. “But we pivoted as fast as we could.”

Part of that was recognizing that many customers were suddenly in turbid financial waters, and needed help. So, early in the pandemic, all banks were doing what they could to help them, whether that meant deferring mortgage loans for a few months or guiding businesses through the hastily assembled Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

“We had a customer-centric focus, which meant helping people navigate payment-related financial issues — at least the financial issues in their lives that could impact their ability to pay us. We did modifications for a lot of folks; we could foresee this was going to be a problematic situation for them. We got out front of it early and tried to alleviate that one piece of stress at a time when so many aspects of life were stressful. We did millions-of-dollars-worth of modifications for customers in the Pioneer Valley.”

Business customers, especially ones forced by a state mandate to shut their doors, were facing similarly dire issues, Sosik said. “We were also doing PPP by the truckload. It was uniquely challenging for us because it all happened at once.”

Such efforts have impacted banks’ bottom line, said Michael Tucker, president of Greenfield Cooperative Bank (GCB), noting that about 15% of mortgage and commercial loan customers took advantage of deferral programs, resulting in an impact of $900,000 from an accounting perspective.

“Everyone else seemed to be in good shape — but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way,” he told BusinessWest. “I don’t see this totally ending until there’s some sort of treatment or vaccine that’s really effective. That being said, things are slowly reopening, and Massachusetts has done a pretty good job keeping infections down.”

And community banks were an important part of that, he said, noting that those loan deferrals, plus costs related to the shutdown and investments in safety protocols in order to reopen, have contributed to GCB being about $1.5 million behind where it would normally be.

“Community banks may seem like they’re a staid industry, but we’re actually very accustomed to change, and sometimes a fast pace to that change. So we’re used to it.”

“It’s going to be a profitable year, but a lot leaner. It’s going to be a challenge,” Tucker went on. “What worries me is what hasn’t risen to the top. We did the payment holiday, but now that the unemployment supplement is gone, and companies rightsize — a lot of them were paying people but couldn’t keep it up forever — I think, until we have a vaccine, we’re looking at a very difficult 2020 and 2021. We’ll be solid; we’ve put a lot of reserves aside, but it’s going to be a challenge.”

Loan Stars

There are some positive signs in the economy, said Jeff Sullivan, president of New Valley Bank, which launched in Springfield last year. He participates in a group of bank CEOs, and on their last group call a couple weeks ago, most said they were pleasantly surprised that, at least on the commercial-loan side, customers who had deferred loan payments had largely returned to their normal payment schedule.

He noted that bank stocks have been “beat up,” as the analyst community didn’t like the idea of deferring principal and interest. “But the overall, totally unscientific trend I’ve seen is that people are pleasantly surprised with how businesses are coming back.

“From our standpoint, we see a lot of growth; businesses are making plans again,” he went on, conceding that New Valley doesn’t yet have a huge portfolio to manage.

Meanwhile, the housing market and stock market are doing better than anyone expected three months ago, he noted, which contributes to an overall mix message when GDP was down 30% in the second quarter and unemployment rose to 16%. “These are troubling numbers, and from a community-bank perspective, we hope it doesn’t turn into a haves-and-have-nots recovery, where the rich get richer and more people get left behind.”

Tucker said demand for loan deferrals has been way down, and banks are now pivoting to help businesses with the forgiveness-application phase of the PPP.

“We did about $18 million worth of PPP, which for us was a lot because most of our loans were under $250,000,” he said, noting that GSB handled about 280 such loans. “It was about a year’s worth of work in a month. Like a lot of banks, our staff was working nights and weekends.”

Sosik added that the waters surrounding the PPP forgiveness phase are still a but murkey and could use some clarity from Congress so the forgiveness path can be clearer. “If people are unclear about forgiveness, they don’t want to spend the money, so it doesn’t get out into the economy.”

At the same time, he added, banks are also being cautious when it comes to growth plans.

“It’s a time to be careful, but at the same time it’s been a very successful year,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve grown a lot this year, but we’re obviously looking forward, expecting continued economic challenges, and our job is to be here for many years. There are times to push hard and run fast, and times to slow that down and be cautious.”

Still, banking leaders are pleased to have made the investments they did in online and remote banking models, Tucker noted, while holding up his smartphone. “Our fastest-growing branch is this. That’s a reality.”

“Banks caused the 2008 recession. Banks were weakened and in a penalty box and reviled by the mainstream for several years afterward. The big difference now is, this recession was not caused by banks.”

But while the number of GCB customers using remote banking is 25% higher than before COVID-19, branches still serve a critical purpose, he added. “We’ve seen a lot of people realize we are invaluable to them. When they had problems with their mortgage, they can deal with one person and not get shuffled through a lot of bureaucracy. That’s a plus.”

While branches are still necessary, he went on, they’re different than they used to be; the recently opened South Hadley branch is 1,800 square feet, less than half the space the bank used to set aside for new branches. But he doesn’t foresee any closures, aside from two Amherst branches, about a mile apart, that recently consolidated into one.

“Some banks are using this time as a trigger to say, ‘OK, we’re going to close these branches,’” Tucker added. “We’ve chosen not to do that because there’s enough disruption for customers as it is.”

Sosik noted that bankESB has invested a lot of money in the remote infrastructure and platform. “The technology works seamlessly, and the adoption was good. We were looking for a catalyst we could use to push it and have customers really start enjoying the technological advances. We didn’t expect it to come from a pandemic; we didn’t want it to come from a pandemic. But the pandemic absolutely pushed people to use it.”

That said, “we totally believe in the branch part of the overall delivery system, and we’re still investing in branches,” including one recently opened in Amherst. “But they’re much different than the ones we built a decade ago, or even five years ago. There’s still a need for a branch; customers still want that. Even if they don’t need to be there, they still like that someone they know and trust can work with them when they need it.”

Here for the Long Haul

Whatever the model, the presidents BusinessWest spoke with all believe in the work community banks have done and continue to do during a very difficult year for so many.

“We believe in it,” Sosik said. “Everyone who works for a community bank does it because we love that part of it. If you look at any successful New England town, you’re going to find a locally managed, if not locally owned, community-type bank at its economic center”

While banks still grapple with the impact of not only loan deferrals but ultra-low interest rates, they’re still in strong shape, he added.

Sullivan agreed. “Banks caused the 2008 recession. Banks were weakened and in a penalty box and reviled by the mainstream for several years afterward. The big difference now is, this recession was not caused by banks. Banks are healthy and have lots of capital. And hopefully we can turn the page soon and get back to normal lending.”

Tucker doesn’t know what shape the recovery will take — a U, a V, or the one he feels is most likely, resembling the Nike ‘swoosh’ logo, with a long, gradual ascent to normalcy.

“But we’ll do fine, and we are doing fine,” he said. “There’s just a lot of pressure on the margin with rates as low as they are and all the unknown with COVID.

“I’m very optimistic, though,” he added. “Businesses are doing OK. Yeah, a lot of them are struggling, but we see a lot of small businesses trying their damnedest. And we’re trying to support those businesses. We’re here, and we’re going to be here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Alumni Achievement Award

Director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health

This Pioneer Remains on the Leading Edge in the Field of Bioethics

Peter DePergola

Peter DePergola, wearing his mask outside Baystate Medical Center, a new requirement, has become a national leader in the emerging field of bioethics.

Peter DePergola described it as a “haunting experience.”

He then amended that statement slightly — but poignantly.

“It was incredibly haunting,” he told BusinessWest while retelling his experiences writing a white paper eventually to be titled “Ethical Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19),” published in the Online Journal of Health Ethics.

As that title suggests, this is a guide to help medical professionals and healthcare facilities decide who would be treated for the virus and how; specifically, it addresses how limited resources are to be expended and in what circumstances. It was a guide that kept him up nights while he was writing it, and one he truly hoped no one would ever have to use.

But when he wrote it — at the height of the surge that hit the eastern part of the state in April — it seemed likely, if not almost certain, that his own employer, Baystate Health, would be putting it to use.

“I really thought — I truly believed — that we would be using this policy within weeks,” he said, adding that he was working with administrators at Baystate who were preparing to become overwhelmed and would need guidance on, among other things, how to proceed when the number of patients who needed a ventilator exceeded the number of machines available.

It never came to that, and DePergola hopes it never does, but his white paper is there for use if the circumstances arise.

As for why it was so haunting, he said he was writing guidelines, or thresholds, for receiving care that he knew his own loved ones would not meet.

“As I wrote it, I realized that people that I cared about, even my own mother, may not qualify, or meet the criteria, that I have developed in collaboration with my colleagues, to receive a life-sustaining resource,” he said. “It was incredibly difficult to separate my own personal feelings and moral responsibilities to my family from the greater good of the public.”

DePergola’s white paper goes a long way toward explaining why he has become a leading voice in the emerging field of bioethics, not only in this region, but across the state and the nation. And also why he has, for the first time, become a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, five years after receiving his 40 Under Forty plaque, and two years after receiving another of BusinessWest’s honors — its coveted Healthcare Heroes award in the category of Emerging Leader.

But there are many other examples, including his steady, if not meteoric, rise within the ranks of experts in the bioethics field.

When he joined the other members of the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 at the Log Cabin, he was a staff ethicist at Baystate and the only person to hold that title in Western Mass. Now a professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Elms College, he’s still the only ethicist in the 413, but his influence now extends well beyond this region.

This was evidenced by his appointment to the Commonwealth’s Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) Advisory Committee in the spring.

The 17-member panel, which in April produced a document titled “Crisis Standards of Care Planning for the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was comprised mostly of noted experts from institutions in the eastern part of the state, including Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston’s Children’s Hospital. And DePergola was, by his estimate, 20 years younger than any other member.

He remembers a number of heated discussions among the members of the panel, including one that involved whether healthcare providers should receive primary access to scarce resources.

“For a while, I was the minority on that subject, saying that I did think that healthcare providers should get priority because they are the means by which we can care for many more people,” he told BusinessWest. “So even on just utilitarian grounds, which is not the best way to make moral decisions, it just made sense that, if we didn’t take care of the individuals who are, in essence, the tools by which we could heal the general public, then there would be no one else. If we didn’t prioritize them, what incentive would they have to come to work?”

A revised version of the committee’s “Crisis Standards of Care Planning” eventually did stipulate that healthcare workers would get priority, and it included a number of other measures contained in DePergola’s white paper.

The fact that the two documents are now very similar speaks to just how quickly and profoundly DePergola his risen to the status of national, and even global, leader in the field of bioethics.

And also why he is one of the five finalists for the Alumni Achievement Award.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Attorney, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin; Springfield City Councilor

He Has a Passion for the Law, and for Serving His Constituents

Mike Fenton

Mike Fenton has now spent more than a decade representing Springfield’s Ward 2.

When he was running for the Ward 2 Springfield City Council seat in 2009 while attending law school at Western New England University, Mike Fenton, who was competing in a deep, well-credentialed field, didn’t think he’d win.

“And when I did win … I didn’t think I’d stay,” he told BusinessWest, figuring that, in time, maybe a few years, he would be immersed in his law career and essentially done with his service to the city.

Suffice it to say Fenton was wrong with both of his projections. Indeed, 11 years later, he is still representing Ward 2 while still building that law practice — he’s a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz, and Fentin, specializing in commercial real estate, business planning, commercial finance, and estate planning.

“A few years into it, I just fell in love with it,” he said of his multi-faceted work with the City Council. “I fell in love with all of it — with helping constituents, the city budget, and some of the more complicated aspects of city government; it’s very rewarding work.”

These sentiments explain why Fenton is now a multiple-year finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, previously known as the Continued Excellence Award. He hopes that 2020 will be the year he’ll break through, but he admits to having other things on his mind right now.

“I fell in love with all of it — with helping constituents, the city budget, and some of the more complicated aspects of city government; it’s very rewarding work.”

That list includes the now nationwide focus on police-community relations — “we’re taking steps to increase accountability and transparency within the department” — and especially COVID-19. The pandemic is impacting both his law practice — there’s been a general slowing of the commercial real-estate market, but an understandable surge in estate-planning work — and the city of Springfield, which is impacted in many ways, especially within its business community.

As Fenton talked about the changing landscape, one can hear the concern in his voice and the passion he has for serving the city he grew up in.

“The biggest casualty to this pandemic, after you take in the public-health and human cost, which is obviously first and foremost, is commercial real estate and the economy,” he noted. “The commercial real-estate market was doing much better than it had in the decades leading up to 2020, and then the pandemic hit, and like every other place, not only this country but around the globe, it’s a completely different environment now.

“There’s no doubting that Springfield was hitting its stride, and the pandemic has thrown us a curveball,” he went on. “Everything from stalled progress at MGM to questions now about development in the area around the casino, to Worthington Street and what’s going to happen there, to losing Big Mamou’s … there’s a lot of losses that will have to be made up when we get to the other end of this pandemic.”

Fenton said he’s looking forward to serving the city as it works to recover from those losses. To explain this passion, he flashed back to 2009 and his decision to seek public office. Actually, he started the discussion with a different decision — the one to attend law school at Western New England, which offered him a full scholarship, instead of Boston College, where he thought he was headed.

That decision, which he now counts among the most important (and best) of his life, brought him back home. And as he was making that decision, his cousin sent him a news article detailing how Springfield was going through a change in its charter, moving from nine at-large city councilors to a 13-member board, with eight of them representing wards. And this started talk of a possible run for one of those seats.

“I was a political science major, but I never thought about a career in politics — I didn’t want a career in politics,” he explained, adding that a City Council seat wasn’t a career, but it was “a great opportunity to meet people and serve the city I love.”

So he ran, launching his career just a few weeks after graduating from Providence College. And again, to his surprise, he prevailed against a number of opponents with better name recognition and better credentials.

He now represents Ward 2, which includes Hungry Hill, East Springfield, and Atwater Park, balancing a long list of city responsibilities with an equally hectic schedule within his law practice. “I’ve been successful at balancing the two because I’m extremely passionate about both of them,” he told BusinessWest. “Politics, and elected office, is not my career, and it will never be my career — but I really enjoy serving my city in this capacity.”

With that, he explained not just why he’s a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, but why he’s now been a finalist several times.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder, V-One Vodka

This Entrepreneur — and His Label — Have Come a Long Way in 15 Years

Paul Kozub, left

Paul Kozub, left, seen here with business partner and former Patriots star Ty Law, is growing V-One into a national brand.

When BusinessWest caught up with Paul Kozub recently, he had just wrapped up some promotional video work with Ty Law, former New England Patriots standout cornerback and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2019.

Law is now a partner with Kozub in his venture, V-One Vodka, and the videos being shot were at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. That’s because V-One has been named the official vodka of the Hall for this year — when most all activities, including the induction ceremony, have been postponed because of the pandemic — and next.

The juxtaposition of all this — official vodka of the Hall of Fame, Ty Law as spokesperson — help show just how far Kozub and his label have come since he became part of the very first 40 Under Forty class in 2007. Back then, he was struggling to get his brand off the ground and into bars, restaurants, and package stores in the 413. It wasn’t exactly a one-man show, but it was very close, with Kozub making most of the deliveries himself.

Today, he’s in four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire — and he’s poised to enter four more, including Ohio. He had plans to be in roughly 30 by this fall, and signed on with a distributor to make that happen, but COVID-19 has put many of the plans … well, on ice.

“In Florida, Texas, and some of these other states, there are so many problems that it’s not a good time to launch a new brand,” he noted. “Are the bars and restaurants open? Are the bars closed? That’s typically half our business.”

But Kozub, who was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur in 2016 and thus has a few pieces of hardware from the magazine on display somewhere, has certainly come a long way in the 15 years since he started this journey in his basement, using a few thousand dollars left to him by his uncle to create his own vodka.

“You have to have that perseverance; there are so many hurdles when you’re running a business — and in today’s present moment, there are even more. You have to love what you do and have the passion for it. If there’s a roadblock or wall, you have to figure out a way around it or through it.”

Indeed, he now has his own distillery in Poland; work continues to expand his footprint geographically; he’s spent $500,000 to create a new bottle — an important part of the puzzle in this industry; and he continues to defy the odds when it comes to making a vodka label stand out and be successful in an immensely crowded field.

“About 97% of new vodkas fail within the first three years,” said Kozub, who used that statistic to segue his way back to the pro football Hall of Fame and a discussion he had recently with its president, Dave Baker.

“We talked about the 33 million people who have played football, the 27,000 who have played in the NFL, and the 300 who are in the Hall of Fame. What did it take for those people? What qualities did they have to have to be one of those 300?” he asked rhetorically, drawing a parallel to those who get to the top of their field in any business, and especially his.

“You have to have that perseverance; there are so many hurdles when you’re running a business — and in today’s present moment, there are even more,” he said while answering his own question. “You have to love what you do and have the passion for it. If there’s a roadblock or wall, you have to figure out a way around it or through it. When it comes to vodka … yes, you have to have a great product, but you have to be willing to work very hard.”

Kozub’s been doing that since he first launched V-One in 2006, trading in life as a loan officer at a local bank for the life he’s always dreamed of — one as an entrepreneur.

It’s not an easy life, certainly, but it’s the one he certainly prefers.

“When you run a small business, it has to be your life,” he said in conclusion. “I don’t know many small-business owners who are playing a lot of golf or have a lot of time on their hands. For me, it’s all about my family and about my business.

“To be successful, you have to love it,” he went on. “Like I told Dave Baker … my worst day at V-One was better than my best day of being a banker. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The challenges that come up — the financial challenges, the HR challenges, the legal challenges … all those things don’t end. And we’re still a very small brand; if we do get bigger and become a national brand, the challenge then becomes how do you stay successful — how do you stay on top?”

As Kozub said, the challenges — the roadblocks and the walls — keep coming. And he rather enjoys finding ways to get through them or around them.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Assistant Director of Business Development and Promotion Sales, Massachusetts State Lottery; Holyoke City Councilor

This City Leader Has Always Been an Ambassador — and a Connector

James Leahy

James Leahy, seen outside City Hall, has become involved a wide array of Holyoke institutions.

James Leahy joked that being an at-large city councilor is not a reference to his size.

The six-foot, four-inch Leahy has had a lot of experience retelling that one-liner — more than 20 years worth, actually. Indeed, he was first elected to that body in 1999, when he was only 26, after a run very much inspired by his father (more on that later).

He admits to not expecting to spend two decades in that post, but he has, and in the meantime, he has become involved in, well … all things Holyoke, or almost all things. Indeed, he has devoted considerable time, energy, and expertise to the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and also been involved with everything from the Holyoke YMCA to the Volleyball Hall of Fame; from the Holyoke Children’s Museum to the Westfield State University board of trustees (he’s an alum), as well as Holyoke’s famous merry-go-round.

And recently, he started and still maintains the Hello Holyoke Community Forum.

He does all this while keeping a day job as assistant director of Business Development and Promotion Sales for the Massachusetts State Lottery, a position that requires him to rotate between offices in Springfield and Worcester.

When asked how he finds time for all this, Leahy, who is often described as an ambassador for the city and a ‘connector’ for people looking for help with a problem or issue, gave an answer that speaks volumes about why, a decade after earning his 40 Under Forty plaque, he is a finalist for the coveted Alumni Achievement Award.

“I find the time,” he said. “But more importantly, I find the right amount of time. One of my strong suits is organizational skills, and I try to teach my children that. I think some of them have it, and some of them don’t. I tell them that they have to put the right amount of quality time into whatever they’re doing. If I can’t give 100%, then I’m not doing it.”

Suffice it to say he’s given 100% to Holyoke, and to ascertain how and why that is, we return the subject of Leahy’s father, Thomas, who emigrated to this country from Ireland, arrived with a strong work ethic, and passed on to his children some strong advice about service to the community.

“When my father arrived here, he worked in Boston, and he heard stories about [former Mayor] James Michael Curley and other politicians,” Leahy explained. “He was always talking about politics, and he loved politics. I was named James Michael Leahy, and I’m pretty sure that has something to do with James Michael Curley.

“My dad always talked about giving back and how America gave him what he has,” Leahy went on. “He was always stressing two things — one, that you had to give back, and two, if you’re going to live somewhere and raise your family there, you should be a cog in the wheel; you should be part of the community.”

That mindset was reinforced by his mother, Mary Ellen, a prolific volunteer, he continued, adding that it was only a few years after graduating from Westfield State that he first decided to seek one of Holyoke’s at-large council seats. He remembers the time well; he was not only running for office that November, but getting married that same month. And his birthday and his his fiancée’s birthday were the same day, Nov. 19.

“I was thinking, ‘this could be the best month of my life,’” he recalled. “And then I thought, ‘if I lose the election, that will put a damper on things.’”

But he didn’t lose, and he’s gone on to win every two years since. But, as noted, his work within the city goes far beyond City Council chambers and City Hall — and to institutions like the merry-go-round, the children’s museum, the YMCA, and especially the parade, which he became involved at the behest, if one can call it that, of his father-in-law, attorney Peter Brady.

“He was very active on the parade committee,” Leahy recalled. “I was still in college when I started dating his daughter; I can remember him handing me an application and saying, ‘fill this out — if you’re going to be part of this family, you’re going to be part of the parade committee.’”

And he has been, serving in a number of capacities, from board president to his current assignment, co-marketing director. He is one of many working hard to help the parade bounce back from a year when it had to be canceled — for the first time anyone can remember — because of the pandemic.

No, ‘at-large’ has nothing to do with Leahy’s size. But you could say it has everything to do with his involvement in — and impact on — this historic city, which continues to be very large indeed.

—George O’Brien

Guide to Senior Planning Special Coverage Special Publications

Without a doubt, 2020 has been an unprecendented year. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the economy, family life, and, well, just about everything else into disarray.

Yet, one aspect of American life has definitely not changed — and that’s the need to prepare for one’s senior years.

As the Baby Boom generation continues to march into their retirement years — at the rate of 10,000 per day — Americans are living longer than ever. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2030, more than 20% of U.S. residents will have passed their 65th birthdays.

But what that life will entail, post-65, can wildly vary depending on lifestyle preferences, health status, finances, and more. That’s why preparation is so important — the sooner, the better. And that’s what this special section of BusinessWest is all about.

For the second straight year, we take a hard look at myriad questions: what levels of care are available, and what do they include? What are some strategies for approaching mom or dad with concerns they might not be able to live alone anymore? How can families pay for all this? What’s an estate plan, and what documents are most important?

As noted, 2020 is already a year fraught with anxiety, and no one wants to add more. But the truth is, even if you don’t expect to be thinking about long-term care for yourself or a loved one, an unexpected accident, illness, or injury can change one’s health needs, sometimes suddenly — or the need might emerge gradually, due to declining health.

It’s a lot to think about, and no single guide can answer all those questions. But hopefully, the following pages will help you approach those decisions with a little more understanding and a little less worry.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2030, more than 20% of U.S. residents will have passed their 65th birthdays.

Senior Planning

Understand the Difference, and Seek Help If It’s Needed

By Beth Cardillo

As Baby Boomers are getting older and representing the largest age group, the questions concerning dementia, as opposed to normal aging, continue to crop up in medical offices.

In the Greater Springfield area, 16.9% of residents over age 65 are living with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementia. The national average is 13.6%.

Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds, with 5 million Americans affected, and the number expected to increase to 20 million by 2050.

Given these numbers, it’s understandable when loved ones become concerned when they notice a family member having memory issues. It’s also understandable when people start to wonder themselves if they a problem. So how does one know if it’s dementia or simply normal aging?

“Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds, with 5 million Americans affected, and the number expected to increase to 20 million by 2050.”

Let’s discuss normal aging first, so you can have a sigh of relief. We all have occasional word-finding difficulties, but you can come up with the word given a bit of time. Not remembering someone’s name if you don’t see them often, or see them out of context, is normal. That is something we all do. Misplacing an item, but having the ability to retrace your steps and locate the item, is also normal. How many times do we all walk into a room and not remember why, then walk out and immediately remember, ‘oh yeah, I was getting the book I left on the couch’?

Rest assured, these are all normal signs of aging. Have any of you purchased ‘the tile’ so you can keep track of your keys, work keys, iPad, and whatever else you need? It can even help you find where you parked your car, which is extremely helpful in New York City, where there’s alternate parking every day.

What isn’t normal is having new problems finding words when speaking or writing (more than being on the tip of your tongue) and you just can’t bring them up. Or forgetting things more often, such as appointments, events, and your way around familiar places. Perhaps you can’t remember or keep up with conversations, books, movies, or newspapers. Are you stopping in the middle of the conversation because you can’t remember what was just said, or the thread of the conversation?

Also, are decisions harder to make? Is your judgment a bit skewed? Are friends and families asking if you are OK? Are you showing up to people’s homes or appointments on the wrong date? Is your mood and behavior a bit unstable or unpredictable? Are you withdrawing from social activities because you don’t want people to notice that you are having difficulty, but instead they notice you aren’t showing up?

These are symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to a full dementia diagnosis.

There are more than 100 types of dementia. People are very reluctant to use the ‘A’ word. They quickly point out it’s not Alzheimer’s or they have just “a little bit of dementia.” The reality is that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 75% of all dementias. It could be vascular dementia, frontotemporal lobe dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or the 97 other types, and often they are concurrent. If you feel like this could be you, contact a neurologist, or a neuropsychologist, or the Alzheimer’s Assoc. at (413) 787-1113.

Today, there is no cure, but there are medications that can slow down the progression of the disease. Diet, exercise, genetics, and co-morbidities all play a part in the diagnosis, and it is said that those physiological changes could be forming in the brain 10 to 20 years before the actual symptoms start to show. There is no shame in asking for help if you feel you may have increased symptoms or you suspect them in a loved one.

On a side note, worth mentioning is that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the senior population, and the virus could be a new type of dementia. It has many side effects consistent with dementia if the virus has traveled to the brain. People are experiencing physiological and neurological changes within the brain, causing confusion, seizures, emotional dysregulation, and strokes that are having long-term effects.

Beth Cardillo, M.Ed., LSW, CDP is a licensed social worker, certified dementia practitioner, and executive director of Armbrook Village, and has worked in the dementia field for more than 20 years. Previous to working with dementia, she opened the nation’s first state-funded traumatic brain injury program in Westfield. She was named Western New England Social Worker of the Year in 2016, and was the 2019 Friends of the Alzheimer’s Assoc. Honoree of the Year; [email protected]; www.armbrookvillage.com

Senior Planning

How Will You Know If Your Older Parents Need Help?

By Brenda Labbe

Many experience aging as a joyful time in their life, filled with retirement, travel, and spending more time with family. But for some, aging represents a series of losses — loss of employment, health and energy, friends, mobility, and independence.

As such, it is not uncommon for older adults to resist reaching out for help. To help start the conversation, we have listed some common signs that might indicate your loved one may need some extra support.

“Stacks of unopened mail, late-payment notices, unfilled prescriptions, and the lack of general upkeep of the house can all be signs that your loved one may need someone to assist with bill paying or homemaking.”

1. Neglecting household responsibilities. Stacks of unopened mail, late-payment notices, unfilled prescriptions, and the lack of general upkeep of the house can all be signs that your loved one may need someone to assist with bill paying or homemaking. Lack of interest in eating or preparing nutritious food and/or lack of food in the home can be a sign that they may need help with grocery shopping or meal prep.

2. Frequent falls. If your loved one experiences frequent falls or you have observed new bruises on their face or body, chances are they should be evaluated by their physician for illness, dehydration, or infections, or X-rayed for fractures. Other items that can increase the risk for falls include the lack of proper medication management and the lack of proper safety equipment in the home. You may want to consider having a safety evaluation of the home to look for any other factors that may be contributing to their falls.

3. Unsafe driving. As our bodies slow down in the aging process, so too will our reflexes, which can make driving even more difficult. Observe your loved one’s car for new scrapes, scratches, dings, or missing mirrors. Avoiding driving or not being able to tolerate any changes in directions may indicate some cognitive changes which signal that now might be the time to consider transportation assistance.

4. Listen for clues in conversation. Many seniors will state they do not want to burden their busy adult children with requests for help. They describe feeling foolish for not being able to keep up with cleaning, medications, or repairs. However, if you listen closely, you may hear repeated areas of concern. Your loved one’s close friends or neighbors may also have input to offer, if asked in confidence.

Finally, consider the old adage “it is all in how you wrap the gift.” In this case, the gift is the offer of help and support. Try asking the question in a manner that is non-threatening and neutral. For example: “gosh, I would be so overwhelmed if I got all this mail — how about I help you go through it?”

Unfortunately, many people will experience a traumatic event before realizing that they need assistance. One way to help better prepare for any emergencies is to monitor your loved one’s physical and mental abilities and start researching care options before you need them. Greater Springfield Senior Services is your local resource to find help, support, and care for your loved one.

Call our office Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and ask to speak with one of our highly trained information and referral specialists to find out more. Knowledge is power, and we are here to help.

Brenda Labbe is the caregiver specialist at Greater Springfield Senior Services and specializes in assisting caregivers in accessing respite and support services for their loved ones.

Senior Planning

It’s Important to Understand Your Alternatives

By Eric Aasheim

Moving from home to a senior-living community is one of the most consequential decisions elder loved ones may be faced with in their lifetimes.

The move is usually permanent; is unfortunately often made in crisis mode or under duress, and involves a host of emotional and psychological implications around declining physical capabilities, perceived loss of independence, and financial worry.

“Moving from home to a senior-living community is one of the most consequential decisions elder loved ones may be faced with in their lifetimes.”

Knowing the answers to these commonly asked questions will help seniors and their adult children plan ahead and ultimately put themselves in a position to make thoughtful and informed decisions about the most appropriate living and care options for their needs.

What is the difference between independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing?

Independent living (IL) is intended for seniors who do not need assistance or supervision with independent activities of daily living (IADLs) like showering, dressing, toileting, eating, or transferring (mobility, bed to standing, sitting to standing, etc.).

Most IL communities provide apartments with full kitchens, and the monthly fee includes one main meal per day in the dining room. Independent living in Western Mass. ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 per month.

Assisted living (AL) communities are appropriate for seniors who require some level of assistance with two or more IADLs and help with medication management; apartments are typically equipped with a kitchenette only because the monthly fee includes three restaurant-style meals per day. Assisted living in Western Mass. ranges from $4,000 to $9,000 per month.

Memory care (MC) is intended for individuals who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other neurogenerative diseases and require an intensive or specialized program of care and supervision. Memory-care communities are secure settings with passcode entrances and enclosed outdoor spaces to keep residents on site, and can be stand-alone facilities or a separate wing or ‘neighborhood’ within a traditional assisted-living community. Memory-care communities most often provide private studio or shared companion suites for their residents. Memory care in Western Mass. ranges from $3,500 (companion suites) to $11,000 per month.

Skilled-nursing facilities (SNFs) are licensed healthcare residences for individuals who require a higher level of medical care than can be provided in an AL setting. Skilled-nursing staffs consisting of RNs, LPNs and CNAs (certified nursing assistants) provide 24-hour medical attention for their long-term and short-term rehabilitation residents. While private rooms are available in many SNFs, shared living arrangements with two or three residents to a hospital-style room are much more common. Skilled-nursing facilities in Western Mass. range from $250 to more than $500 per day.

Can I receive care at home rather than moving to a senior-living community?

Absolutely. There are any number of quality home-care companies that can provide a wide range of custodial and healthcare services in the comfort of your own home. Home care is often referred to as non-skilled care (grooming, dressing, bathing, cleaning, and other everyday tasks) and home health care as skilled care (skilled nursing and therapy).

Seniors who are largely independent but can benefit from limited home care or home-healthcare services may choose to continue living in their homes as long as these services help them do so safely. Unless you hire a full-time live-in, skilled and non-skilled care are typically provided for only a few hours per day a few days per week, meaning family members often are called upon to supplement the home-care schedule on their own.

Seniors who are at risk for (or have experienced) frequent falls or who require consistent overnight supervision or assistance may find that moving to an assisted-living community provides them with a more secure living environment.

The choice between home care and senior living is highly personal and almost always comes down to a question of safety, location, the desire and need for socialization, and finances.

What is a continuing-care retirement community (CCRC), and what are the benefits compared to other senior-living communities?

Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs) are senior-living communities that offer a complete continuum of care (IL, AL, MC, and SNF), usually on a single campus. The primary benefit of a CCRC is that you can stay in the same community and never have to move, even as your care requirements change as you age. CCRCs (also referred to as life-plan communities) do typically require a substantial up-front community fee that can range from $10,000 to $300,000 or more depending on the community, the structure of the life-care plan, and the size and type of apartment.

Many CCRCs offer declining, refundable options that can return 70% to 90% of the up-front community fee to the resident when he or she moves, or to her estate when the resident passes away. CCRCs do still charge monthly fees, but they are often lower and increase less from one level of care to the next than traditional senior-living communities. CCRCs also offer a potential tax-deduction benefit that many non-CCRCs do not provide.

Will my health insurance cover the cost of assisted living or memory care? What if I am eligible for Medicaid?

Medicare and private insurance plans do not cover the cost of assisted living or memory care. Medicare will cover short-term and intermittent home care or rehabilitation stays in a SNF following hospitalization, but will not pay for either long-term. Seniors generally must pay for assisted living, memory care, and home care privately unless they have long-term-care insurance with benefits specifically designed to cover these services.

Qualifying veterans and their spouses may be eligible for the aid and attendance benefit from the VA to help pay for the cost of assisted living, memory care, home care, and skilled-nursing facilities.

Some, but not most, assisted-living and memory-care communities do participate in programs administered by Medicare and Medicaid that are designed for low-income seniors who could otherwise not afford senior-living communities.

Medicaid does cover the cost of long-term care in Medicaid-certified skilled-nursing facilities and home healthcare services for recipients who would qualify for nursing-home care.

What other senior-living and care options are there?

• Residential care facilities (also called rest homes) provide meals, housing, supervision, and care for seniors who need assistance with activities of daily living but don’t yet require skilled nursing care.

• Congregate housing is a shared-living environment that combines housing, meals, and other services for seniors but does not provide 24-hour care or supervision. Public congregate housing is administered by municipal housing authorities and is partially subsidized by the state and federal government.

• Adult foster care is an alternative to residential care and matches seniors who can no longer live on their own with individuals or families who provide room, board, and personal care in their homes.

• Respite care is short-term care and supervision provided for seniors at home or in assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities to provide family members who need some time off from their caregiver duties.

• Adult day health programs (also called adult day care) provide a wide array of community-based services for seniors during the day (skilled nursing, supervision, direct care, nutrition and dietary services, and therapeutic, social, and recreational activities) so that family members can work or attend to other responsibilities.

• Hospice care is available for individuals with life-threatening illnesses or a life expectancy of six months or less and can be provided in the home, in assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities, in the hospital, or in specialized hospice facilities. When curative treatment is no longer an option, hospice professionals work to make a patient’s life as dignified and comfortable as possible and provide critical emotional and spiritual support services to the patient and family members.

How have senior-living and care options been impacted by COVID-19?

In short, the impact has been profound, and the ‘new normal’ is taking shape as we speak. Most home-care providers and senior-living communities have resumed services to current and new clients at some level. However, the provision of these services is governed by strict protocols to protect the health and safety of residents, staff, and family members.

For instance, many assisted-living communities are not currently offering in-person tours and assessments and instead facilitating these interactions virtually. Since most senior-living communities are observing social-distancing guidelines, new residents must quarantine for 14 days after move-in, and residents are dining in their apartments rather than in the community dining room. Social activities and outings have largely been modified or canceled, and visits from family members have been curtailed for the time being.

Eric Aasheim is a certified senior advisor and owner of Oasis Senior Living of Western Massachusetts. He assists seniors and family members through the entire process of transitioning from home to senior-living communities in Hampden, Hampshire, and Berkshire counties and surrounding areas.

Senior Planning

Some Questions and Answers About Home-care Services

By Tania Spear

What is home care?

Home-care services are delivered to clients wherever they call home. There is a wide variety of assistance available, including everything from occasional help with housekeeping, meal preparation, companionship, and errands to skilled services such as nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and hospice care. The goal is to support clients who prefer to remain at home, but need care that cannot easily or effectively be provided by family or friends.

Who provides home care?

Home-care services can be provided by an agency or an individual. Support can be provided from one hour to up to 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. There are many reputable agencies in the area. Your physician, area Council on Aging, hospital-discharge planner, or geriatric-care manager will be able to refer you to a home-care provider most appropriate to assist you.

“The goal is to support clients who prefer to remain at home, but need care that cannot easily or effectively be provided by family or friends.”

How do I pay for home-care services?

Government and private insurance may pay for services under specific circumstances such as after a recent hospitalization when skilled nursing or therapy services are needed. Ongoing assistance with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, feeding, etc.) and housekeeping are generally not covered by insurance and are often private pay. It would be best to contact your provider for more information.

Are there benefits to using an agency?

While you may pay more using an agency caregiver, there are some advantages. An agency will offer pre-screening of workers, liability protection, workers’ compensation, and backup care in the event a particular caregiver isn’t available. An agency handles scheduling, payroll, and taxes, resulting in less paperwork.

How do I evaluate a home-care agency?

You will want to know if the agency works with you to develop a written plan of care and/or service contract and, if so, how often it is updated. How does the agency screen and evaluate employees? Are caregivers and supervisors available 24/7/365? How does the agency resolve concerns or complaints? Can the agency provide a list of local references?

What about COVID-19?

While accepting help at home from an agency may cause some fear during the pandemic, there are some things to consider that may help make you feel more confident in your decision to refuse or accept care as well as minimize risks. First, you want to assess the need for care. For many, care is essential, and refusing assistance in not an option. If you’ve determined help is necessary, check with the agency to determine what infection-control protocols are in place and if the agency has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) available. In addition to following CDC guidelines, you may want significant details related to how the agency is protecting staff and clients.

Are there any other things I should consider before receiving home care?

If a client or family hasn’t ever had help at home in the past, it can create some distress. The loss of independence and privacy can be factors. Oftentimes, if a competent caregiver with the right skills is placed, even the most seemingly resistant client may begin to look forward to the caregiver visits. Establishing expectations based on an appropriate plan of care and a goal for each visit is important for both the client and caregiver. With the right blend of care and compassion, a bit of support can make a world of difference in allowing someone who wishes to remain home to stay safe and healthy.

Tania Spear, MSN, MBA, RN is the owner and administrator of Silver Linings Home Care, LLC. She is a registered nurse and an Elms College graduate with a master of science degree in nursing and health services management and an MBA in healthcare leadership; (413) 363-2575; [email protected]

Senior Planning

Many Options Are Available for Seniors and Their Families

From the NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON AGING

Many older adults and caregivers worry about the cost of medical care. These expenses can use up a significant part of monthly income, even for families who thought they had saved enough.

How people pay for long-term care — whether delivered at home or in a hospital, assisted-living facility, or skilled-nursing facility — depends on their financial situation and the kinds of services they use. Often, they rely on a variety of payment sources, including personal funds, government programs, and private financing options.

Out of Pocket

At first, many older adults pay for care in part with their own money. They may use personal savings, a pension or other retirement fund, income from stocks and bonds, or proceeds from the sale of a home.

“How people pay for long-term care — whether delivered at home or in a hospital, assisted-living facility, or skilled-nursing facility — depends on their financial situation and the kinds of services they use.”

Professional care given in assisted-living facilities and continuing-care retirement communities is almost always paid for out of pocket, though Medicaid may pay some costs for people who meet financial and health requirements.

Medicare

Medicare is a federal government health-insurance program that pays some medical costs for people age 65 and older, and for all people with late-stage kidney failure. It also pays some medical costs for those who have gotten Social Security Disability Income (discussed later) for 24 months. It does not cover ongoing personal care at home, assisted living, or long-term care.

Medicaid

Some people may qualify for Medicaid, a combined federal and state program for low-income people and families. This program covers the costs of medical care and some types of long-term care for people who have limited income and meet other eligibility requirements.

Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

PACE is a Medicare program that provides care and services to people who otherwise would need care in a nursing home. PACE covers medical, social-service, and long-term-care costs for frail people. It may pay for some or all of the long-term-care needs of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. PACE permits most people who qualify to continue living at home instead of moving to a long-term care facility. There may be a monthly charge.

State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

SHIP, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, is a national program offered in each state that provides counseling and assistance to people and their families on Medicare, Medicaid, and Medicare supplemental insurance (Medigap) matters.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may provide long-term care or at-home care for some veterans. If your family member or relative is eligible for veterans’ benefits, check with the VA or get in touch with the VA medical center nearest you. There could be a waiting list for VA nursing homes.

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)

This type of Social Security is for people younger than age 65 who are disabled according to the Social Security Administration’s definition. For a person to qualify for Social Security Disability Income, he or she must be able to show that the person is unable to work, the condition will last at least a year, and the condition is expected to result in death. Social Security has ‘compassionate allowances’ to help people with Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, and certain other serious medical conditions get disability benefits more quickly.

Private Financing Options for Long-term Care

In addition to personal and government funds, there are several private payment options, including long-term-care insurance (see story on this page), reverse mortgages, certain life-insurance policies, annuities, and trusts. Which option is best for a person depends on many factors, including the person’s age, health status, personal finances, and risk of needing care.

Reverse Mortgages for Seniors

A reverse mortgage is a special type of home loan that lets a homeowner convert part of the ownership value in his or her home into cash. Unlike a traditional home loan, no repayment is required until the borrower sells the home, no longer uses it as a main residence, or dies.

There are no income or medical requirements to get a reverse mortgage, but you must be age 62 or older. The loan amount is tax-free and can be used for any expense, including long-term care. However, if you have an existing mortgage or other debt against your home, you must use the funds to pay off those debts first.

Trusts

A trust is a legal entity that allows a person to transfer assets to another person, called the trustee. Once the trust is established, the trustee manages and controls the assets for the person or another beneficiary. You may choose to use a trust to provide flexible control of assets for an older adult or a person with a disability, which could include yourself or your spouse. Two types of trusts can help pay for long-term-care services: charitable remainder trusts and Medicaid disability trusts.

Life-Insurance Policies for Long-term Care

Some life insurance policies can help pay for long-term care. Some policies offer a combination product of both life insurance and long-term-care insurance.

Policies with an ‘accelerated death benefit’ provide tax-free cash advances while you are still alive. The advance is subtracted from the amount your beneficiaries will receive when you die.

You can get an accelerated death benefit if you live permanently in a nursing home, need long-term care for an extended time, are terminally ill, or have a life-threatening diagnosis such as AIDS. Check your life-insurance policy to see exactly what it covers.

You may be able to raise cash by selling your life-insurance policy for its current value. This option, known as a ‘life settlement,’ is usually available only to people age 70 and older. The proceeds are taxable and can be used for any reason, including paying for long-term care.

A similar arrangement, called a ‘viatical settlement,’ allows a terminally ill person to sell his or her life-insurance policy to an insurance company for a percentage of the death benefit on the policy. This option is typically used by people who are expected to live two years or less. A viatical settlement provides immediate cash, but it can be hard to get.

Using Annuities to Pay for Long-term Care

You may choose to enter into an annuity contract with an insurance company to help pay for long-term-care services. In exchange for a single payment or a series of payments, the insurance company will send you an annuity, which is a series of regular payments over a specified period of time. There are two types of annuities: immediate annuities and deferred long-term-care annuities.

Senior Planning

Five Things to Know About Long-term-care Insurance

By ELLEN STARK for the AARP BULLETIN

By the time you reach 65, chances are about 50/50 that you’ll require paid long-term care (LTC) someday. If you pay out of pocket, you’ll spend $140,000 on average. Yet you probably haven’t planned for that financial risk. Only 7.2 million or so Americans have LTC insurance, which covers many of the costs of a nursing home, assisted living, or in-home care — expenses that aren’t covered by Medicare.

“Long-term care is the unsolved problem for so many people,” said Christine Benz, director of Personal Finance at Morningstar, an investment research firm in Chicago. Here’s what you need to know about long-term-care insurance today.

1. Traditional policies have fewer fans. For years, long-term-care insurance entailed paying an annual premium in return for financial assistance if you ever needed help with day-to-day activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating meals. Typical terms today include a daily benefit for nursing-home coverage, a waiting period of about three months before insurance kicks in, and a maximum of three years’ worth of coverage.

“This is a classic story of market failure. No one wants to buy insurance, and no one wants to sell it.”

But these stand-alone LTC policies have had a troubled history of premium spikes and insurer losses, thanks in part to faulty forecasts by insurers of the amount of care they’d be on the hook for. Sales have fallen sharply. While more than 100 insurers sold policies in the 1990s, now fewer than 15 do. “This is a classic story of market failure,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, and the author of Caring for Our Parents. “No one wants to buy insurance, and no one wants to sell it.”

2. You might not need insurance  …  but you need a plan. Premiums for LTC policies average $2,700 a year, according to the industry research firm LifePlans. That puts the coverage out of reach for many Americans. (One bright spot for spouses: discounts for couples are common —  typically 30% off the price of policies bought separately.)

If your assets are few, you may eventually be able to cover LTC costs via Medicaid, available only if you’re impoverished; if you have lots of money saved, you likely can pay for future care out of pocket. But weigh factors other than cash: do you have home equity you could tap? Nearby children who can be counted on to pitch in? Or do you have a family history of dementia that puts you at higher risk of needing care?

3. There’s a new insurance in town. As traditional LTC insurance sputters, another policy is taking off: whole life insurance that you can draw from for long-term care. Unlike the older variety of LTC insurance, these ‘hybrid’ policies will return money to your heirs even if you don’t end up needing long-term care. You don’t run traditional policies’ risk of a rate hike because you lock in your premium up front. If you’re older or have health problems, you may be more likely to qualify.

4. But old-school policies are cheaper. If all you want is cost-effective coverage — even if that means nothing back if you never need help — traditional LTC insurance has the edge. “Hybrid policies are usually two to three times more expensive than traditional insurance for the same long-term care benefits,” said Scott Olson, an insurance agent and co-owner of LTCShop.com in Camano Island, Wash. With hybrids, you’re paying extra just for the guarantee of getting money back.

A hybrid policy may make the most sense if your alternative is to use your savings, or if you have another whole-life policy with a large cash value.

5. Speed and smart shopping pay off. If you want insurance, start looking in your 50s or early 60s, before premiums rise sharply or worsening health rules out robust coverage. “Every year you delay, it will be more expensive,” Olson said. Initial premiums at age 65, for example, are 8% to 10% higher than those for new customers who are 64.

As for where to shop, seek out an independent agent who sells policies from multiple companies rather than a single insurer. For extra expertise and a wider choice of policies, Olson suggests looking for agents able to sell what are known as long-term-care partnership policies — part of a national program that has continuing-education requirements for insurance professionals.

Ellen Stark, a former deputy editor of Money, has written about personal finance for more than 20 years.

Senior Planning

Consider These Important Estate-planning Documents

By KEN COUGHLIN

Making sure you have the right estate-planning documents is one of the simplest ways to have a positive impact on your family’s future. Proper planning ensures that your wishes will be followed and that your family will have less to worry about after you are gone.

Estate planning does not need to be difficult; a few documents can make a big difference. Here are the five legal documents, in order of priority, that everyone should have in place:

1. Durable Power of Attorney. This appoints one or more people to act for you on financial and legal matters in the event of your incapacity. Without it, if you become disabled or even unable to manage your affairs for a period of time, your finances could become disordered and your bills not paid, and this would create a greater burden on your family. They might have to go to court to seek the appointment of a conservator, which takes time and money, all of which can be avoided through a simple document.

“Estate planning does not need to be difficult; a few documents can make a big difference.”

2. Healthcare Proxy and Medical Directive. Similar to a durable power of attorney, a healthcare proxy appoints an agent to make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t do so for yourself, whether permanently or temporarily. Again, without this document in place, your family members might be forced to go to court to be appointed guardian. Include a medical directive to guide your agent in making decisions that best match your wishes.

3. HIPAA Release. While the healthcare proxy authorizes your agent to act for you on health care matters, you may appoint only one person at a time. It may be important for all of your family members to be able to communicate with healthcare providers. A broad HIPAA release — named for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 — will permit medical personnel to share information with anyone and everyone you name, not limiting this function to your healthcare agent.

4. Will. Your will says who will get your property after your death. However, it’s increasingly irrelevant for this purpose, as most property passes outside of probate through joint ownership, beneficiary designations, and trusts. Yet, your will is still important for two other reasons. First, if you have minor children, it permits you to name their guardians in the event you are not there to continue your parental role. Second, it allows you to pick your personal representative (also called an executor or executrix) to take care of everything having to do with your estate, including distributing your possessions, paying your final bills, filing your final tax return, and closing out your accounts. It’s best that you choose who serves in this role.

5. Revocable Trust. A revocable trust is icing on the cake and becomes more important the older you get. It permits the person or people you name to manage your financial affairs for you as well as avoid probate. You can name one or more people to serve as co-trustee with you so that you can work together on your finances. This allows them to seamlessly take over in the event of your incapacity. Revocable trusts are not as simple as the prior four documents because there are many options for how they can be structured and what happens with your property after your death. Drafting a trust is more complicated, but also more nuanced, giving you more say about what happens to your assets.

Unless your situation is complicated, these documents are straightforward, and the process to create them is not difficult. By drafting an estate plan, you can save your family a great deal of strife, difficulty, and cost at an already-tough time.

Ken Coughlin is editorial director of ElderLawAnswers.

Senior Planning

These regional and statewide nonprofits can help families make decisions and access resources related to elder-care planning.

AARP Massachusetts
1 Beacon St., #2301, Boston, MA 02108
(866) 448-3621
states.aarp.org/region/massachusetts
Administrator: Mike Festa
Services: AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social-welfare organization with a membership of nearly 38 million that advocates for the issues that matter to families, such as healthcare, employment and income security, and protection from financial abuse

The Conversation Project and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement
53 State St., 19th Floor
Boston, MA 02109
(617) 301-4800
www.theconversationproject.org
Administrator: Kate DeBartolo
Services: The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care; its team includes five seasoned law, journalism, and media professionals who are working pro bono alongside professional staff from the Instititute for Healthcare Improvement

Elder Services of Berkshire County Inc.
877 South St., Suite 4E, Pittsfield, MA 01201
(413) 499-0524
www.esbci.org
Administrator: Christopher McLaughlin
Services: Identifies and addresses priority needs of Berkshire County seniors; services include information and referral, care management, respite care, homemaker and home health assistance, healthy-aging programs, and MassHealth nursing home pre-screening; agency also offers housing options, adult family care, group adult foster care, long-term-care ombudsman, and money management, and oversees the Senior Community Service Aide Employment Program

Greater Springfield Senior Services Inc.
66 Industry Ave., Suite 9
Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 781-8800
www.gsssi.org
Administrator: Jill Keough
Services: Private, nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining quality of life for older adults, caregivers, and people with disabilities, through programs and services that foster independence, dignity, safety, and peace of mind; services include case management, home care, home-delivered meals, senior community dining, money management, congregate housing, and adult day care

Highland Valley Elder Services
320 Riverside Dr., Florence, MA 01062
(413) 586-2000
www.highlandvalley.org
Administrator: Allan Ouimet
Services: Services include care management, information/referral services, family caregiver program, personal emergency-response service, protective services, home-health services, chore services, nursing-home ombudsman services, adult day programs, elder-care advice, bill-payer services, options counseling, respite services, representative payee services, local dining centers, personal-care and homemaker services, and home-delivered meals

LifePath
101 Munson St., Suite 201
Greenfield, MA 01301
(413) 773-5555
www.lifepathma.org
Administrator: Barbara Bodzin
Services: LifePath, formerly Franklin County Home Care Corp., an area agency on aging, is a private, nonprofit corporation that develops, provides, and coordinates a range of services to support the independent living of elders and people with disabilities with a goal of independence; it also supports caregivers, including grandparents raising grandchildren

Massachusetts Assoc. of Older Americans
19 Temple Place, Boston, MA 02111
(617) 426-0804
www.maoamass.org
Administrator: Chet Jakubiak
Services: Aims to improve the economic security of older Massachusetts residents through research and advocacy on policies that may reduce risk and hardship; fights against the dual stigma of being old and mentally ill, to preserve Medicare and Social Security, to ensure access to community-based long-term care, and to obtain mental healthcare for elders suffering from depression and other brain disorders; organizes regular conferences on important issues throughout the state and collaborates with councils on aging to hold training sessions for senior advocates

Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs
1 Ashburton Place, Unit 517
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 727-7750
www.mass.gov/elders
Administrator: Elizabeth Chen
Services: Connects seniors and families with a range of services, including senior centers, councils on aging, nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels, exercise, health coaching, and more; supports older adults who may be somewhat frail through programs in nursing homes, such as the ombudsman program, volunteers who visit residents, and quality-improvement initiatives in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities; caregiver programs offer support to people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or those caring for someone with more advanced Alzheimer’s

Massachusetts Senior Legal Helpline
99 Chauncy St., Unit 400, Boston, MA 02111
(800) 342-5297
www.vlpnet.org
Administrator: Joanna Allison
Services: The Helpline is a project of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Boston that provides free legal information and referral services to Massachusetts residents age 60 and older; the Helpline is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon

MassOptions
(844) 422-6277
www.massoptions.org
Administrator: Marylou Sudders
Services: A service of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, MassOptions connects elders, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers with agencies and organizations that can best meet their needs; staff can also assist with determining eligibility for and applying to MassHealth

VA Central and Western Massachusetts Healthcare System
421 North Main St., Leeds, MA 01053
(413) 584-4040
www.centralwesternmass.va.gov.
Administrator: Andrew McMahon (interim)
Services: Provides primary, specialty, and mental-health care, including psychiatric, substance-abuse, and PTSD services, to a veteran population in Central and Western Massachusetts of more than 120,000 men and women

WestMass ElderCare Inc.
4 Valley Mill Road, Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 538-9020
www.wmeldercare.org
Administrator: Roseann Martoccia
Services: Provides an array of in-home and community services to support independent living; interdisciplinary team approach to person-centered care; information, referrals, and options counseling as well as volunteer opportunities available; primary service area includes Holyoke, Chicopee, Granby, South Hadley, Belchertown, Ludlow, and Ware, as well as other surrounding communities

Senior Planning

Five Steps to Take When Your Parents Need Assisted Living

By MERRITT WHITLEY

Many families look to assisted-living facilities to provide essential care and peace of mind when it comes to their aging parents. Finding the best senior-living community means matching your parents’ needs, lifestyle, and budget with communities in their desired area. The process is easiest and most successful when you ask the right questions, prepare, and have open conversations with your family.

If you’ve noticed signs your parents need help, it may be time to look for assisted-living options. Follow these six steps to find the right senior-living facility for your parents.

Determine Cost and Payment Options

Decide what your family can afford on a monthly basis, and look for assisted-living communities that fit your budget. Some people have savings or long-term-care insurance to help fund senior living, while tthers need to be creative. You may consider options such as Social Security, VA benefits, cashing out a life-insurance policy, selling a home, or reverse mortgage to help pay for care.

Have a Conversation with Your Aging Parents

You can do much of the legwork for your parents, but have regular discussions with them about their desires and preferences. When you have a list of options ready, talk to them about communities you think are a good fit and why you like them. The more your parents know and are involved, the smoother their transition to senior living will be.

Visit or Virtually Tour a Community

No amount of time spent viewing brochures, floor plans, photos, or reviews can substitute for an in-person visit to or virtual tour of an assisted-living community. Visit at least three communities for comparison. Schedule visits for you and your parent, and try to tour during mealtimes. This allows you to interact with staff and residents, and sample the food. Overall, you’ll get a good feel for the environment and culture of the community.

Consult a Variety of Sources

You can always bounce ideas off of a senior-living advisor during the decision-making process. When making a decision, talk to those in the know to learn as much as you can. Read reviews of senior communities on senioradvisor.com to help you make an informed and confident decision. Check the background of an assisted-living community you’re considering with the state licensing agency tasked with monitoring facilities.

Prepare for the Transition

Do not delay the move — it’s risky to procrastinate, especially when a parent needs care. Delays can lead to avoidable accidents and medical problems. When preparing for a move, it’s important to:

• Consolidate possessions. Is your loved one downsizing? Can you help them sell or donate any items?

• Plan and coordinate the move. Are you hiring a company or helping on your own? Set up a schedule and plan to ensure the move goes smoothly to alleviate stress.

• Gather and manage legal documents. Locate medical documents, tax returns, or any important information your parents may need. Make sure they’re in a safe place so they don’t get lost or misplaced during the move.

Bottom Line

Whether your parents are choosing the community themselves, or you’re helping decide for a parent, the above steps should help ensure everyone in your family feels good about the assisted-living facility selection. When possible, have conversations with your parents, discuss the pros and cons of each option, and try to come to a consensus together.

Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom.

Senior Planning

It’s Not About Giving Up, but About Quality of Life

From the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF HOSPICE AND PALLIATIVE MEDICINE

There may come a time when efforts to cure or slow an illness are not working and may be more harmful than helpful. If that time comes, you should know there’s a type of palliative care — called hospice — that can help ensure your final months of life are as good and fulfilling as they can be for you and your loved ones.

Hospice is not about giving up. It’s about giving you comfort, control, dignity, and quality of life.

Insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid will generally provide coverage for hospice care if your doctors determine you likely have six months (a year in some cases) or less to live if your illness follows its normal course.

“Requesting hospice care is a personal decision, but it’s important to understand that, at a certain point, doing ‘everything possible’ may no longer be helping you. Sometimes the burdens of a treatment outweigh the benefits.”

So, how do you know when it’s time for hospice care? Requesting hospice care is a personal decision, but it’s important to understand that, at a certain point, doing ‘everything possible’ may no longer be helping you. Sometimes the burdens of a treatment outweigh the benefits. For instance, treatment might give you another month of life but make you feel too ill to enjoy that time. Palliative doctors can help you assess the advantages and disadvantages of specific treatments.

Unfortunately, most people don’t receive hospice care until the final weeks or even days of life, possibly missing out on months of quality time. This may be out of fear that choosing hospice means losing out on a chance for a cure. Sometimes doctors fear their patients will feel abandoned if they suggest hospice.

Hospice care can help you continue treatments that are maintaining or improving your quality of life. If your illness improves, you can leave hospice care at any time and return if and when you choose to.

The following are some signs that you may experience better quality of life with hospice care:

• You’ve made several trips to the emergency room, and your condition has been stabilized, but your illness continues to progress.

• You’ve been admitted to the hospital several times within the last year with the same symptoms.

• You wish to remain at home, rather than spend time in the hospital.

• You are no longer receiving treatments to cure your disease.

Hospice care can free you up to ensure a time of personal growth and that you get the most you can out of your time left, allowing you to reflect on your life; heal emotional wounds and reconnect with a loved one with whom you have been estranged; visit favorite places or those with special meaning, such as a school, house, or location with a beautiful view you’ve always loved; put your financial affairs in order; create a legacy, such as a journal, artwork, or a videotaped message; or simply be with the people you love and who love you.

There are other benefits of hospice care, too:

• Hospice care allows you to remain and receive medical care in your own home, if desired and possible.

• It prevents or reduces trips to the emergency room for aggressive care that you might not want. Although you still might go to the hospital for tests or treatments, hospice allows you and your loved ones to remain in control of your care.

• Members of the hospice team can clean, cook, or do other chores, giving your loved ones a chance to run errands, go out to dinner, take a walk, or nap.

• Hospice programs offer bereavement counseling for your loved ones, often for up to a year.

Hospice care may not be appropriate if you are seeking treatments intended to cure your illness. Whether receiving hospice or palliative care, you should make a plan to live well so that your wishes for care and living are known.