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Here Are the Stories That Impacted Western Mass. in 2022

By George O’Brien and Joseph Bednar

 

Cannabis Sector Continues to Grow

How many dispensaries is too many? Cities like Northampton, Holyoke, and Easthampton that have embraced the cannabis industry are demonstrating that many such businesses can thrive together, while generating healthy tax revenues for the municipality itself. However, the recent closure of the Source — the state’s first adult-use dispensary to close since shops began opening in 2018 — poses new questions on the competition front.

There’s no doubt cannabis has been a success in Massachusetts, with recreational sales approaching $4 billion since legalization. But one big question is what form the industry will eventually take — with some predicting eventual consolidation by bigger entities alongside a robust population of boutique sellers — and how the state will continue to protect opportunities for smaller players, especially minorities.

The latter prospect was strengthened by a law passed in August aimed at giving minority cannabis entrepreneurs easier access into the industry, and also paving the way for municipalities to allow marijuana cafés. The bill also better regulates host community agreements, creates a state-run loan fund for minority entrepreneurs, lowers taxes for marijuana businesses, and makes it easier to expunge records for old marijuana offenses.

In short, this story is still evolving in intriguing ways.

 

Companies Grapple with Workforce Challenges

The pandemic temporarily dislodged millions of people from their jobs, and when companies started rehiring again, they found it was much more difficult to recruit and retain employees, particularly in lower-paying industries like hospitality, but it was a trend that stretched across all fields, from healthcare to construction to … well, you name it.

At issue has been three intersecting trends: the Great Resignation of older workers, many of whom moved up their retirement timeline in the wake of the pandemic’s economic upheaval; a movement among Gen-Zers and younger Millennials, particularly in service industries, to re-evaluate their worth and push for higher wages and more flexibility; and ‘quiet quitting,’ defined as doing the bare minimum to fulfill one’s job, which, of course, cuts into a company’s productivity.

There are no easy answers to combat these trends, and companies struggling with workforce shortages must grapple with what they mean in the longer term. Workers no doubt have leverage right now like they haven’t had in recent memory, and they’re wielding it, to significant — and, in many cases, still-undetermined — effect.

 

An architect’s rendering of a renovated Victory Theatre

An architect’s rendering of a renovated Victory Theatre

Victory Theatre Project Gains Momentum

Holyoke officials and groups involved with the arts have been engaged in efforts to try to revitalize the historic Victory Theatre for more than 40 years now. And while this initiative still has a ways to go before it can cross the goal line, some significant progress was seen this past year.

It came in several forms, but especially the earmarking of ARPA funding to renovate the theater, which opened in the 1920s and last showed a movie in 1979. The ARPA funding is expected to help close the gap between the funds that have been raised for the initiative and the total needed — roughly $60 million.

Momentum can also be seen in a firm commitment on the part of Joshua Garcia, the city’s first Hispanic mayor, who sees the project as an important catalyst for bringing new businesses to downtown Holyoke and another key ingredient in the larger formula for revitalizing the Paper City.

 

The Marriott Flag Returns to Downtown Springfield

It took more than three years, and there were a number of challenges to overcome along the way, but the Marriott flag is now flying again over the hotel in the Tower Square complex. The massive renovation — or “re-imagining” — of the space, as it’s been called, earned Tower Square owners Dinesh Patel and Vid Mitta BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur honor for 2022.

But the undertaking has done more than that. It has helped transform the property into one of the best hotels west of Boston, and it has become a stunning addition to a Tower Square complex that has been reinvented as well, with intriguing additions ranging from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Springfield to White Lion Brewery to a scaled-down version of a Big Y supermarket soon to emerge in space formerly occupied by CVS.

The new Marriott staged a truly grand opening in November, an event that was a big day not just for Patel and Mitta, but for the entire city.

 

Remote Work Is Here to Stay

This past year was one in which the region’s business community was to return to normal in most all respects after two painful years of COVID. But there was one realm where it didn’t — and that was by choice.

Indeed, remote work continued to be part of the landscape in 2022, but this time there was an air of permanence to the concept, not merely a temporary response to COVID. In interviews for stories written over the course of the year, owners of businesses large and small said remote work and hybrid work schedules have become the new norm. They have become a benefit of sorts for valued workers and have become an effective means for attracting and recruiting talent, as well as for as widening the net for job applicants well beyond the 413 area.

The full impact of remote work on the commercial real-estate market and small businesses that rely on workers being in their offices — restaurants and bars, for example — has yet to be fully and accurately measured, but it appears that this fundamental change in how people work is here to stay.

 

East-west Rail Chugs Forward

East-west rail service between Pittsfield and Boston is still far from reality, and plenty can still happen to derail the decades-long dream of so many legislators, businesses, municipalities, and other rail advocates. But 2022 marked the strongest progress toward that goal yet, with $275 million allocated toward the project in August as part of the state’s $11 billion infrastructure bill — a good start, but only a start.

A high-speed rail connection between the Hub and Western Mass. is about more than convenience; it’s about expanded opportunity — both for workers who can earn Boston wages while enjoying a decidedly non-Boston cost of living, and also for employers who can cast a wider net for talent — not to mention easier access to recreational and regional resources, as well as reduced traffic and emissions.

“We have the money, the support, and I have secured the commitment from both the outgoing Baker-Polito administration and the incoming Healey-Driscoll administration to keep this train literally and metaphorically moving forward,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said earlier this month. “This is an opportunity that will not avail itself again, and now is the time to move on an east-west rail project that will be transformative for all of Massachusetts.”

 

The T-Birds came up a few wins shy of an AHL championship

The T-Birds came up a few wins shy of an AHL championship, but their playoff run was a huge win for the team and the region.

Springfield Thunderbirds Reach AHL Finals

The Springfield Thunderbirds eventually wound up a few wins shy of a Calder Cup this past spring. But their dramatic run to the finals was a huge win for the team, the city, and the region.

Indeed, the race for the cup captured the attention of the entire area, with fans old and new turning out at the MassMutual Center, tuning in on social media, and talking about the team at the water cooler — or the weekly Zoom meeting.

The team, which eventually lost in the finals to the Chicago Wolves, created a great deal of momentum with its playoff run, as well as a surge in season-ticket sales. While not all deep playoff runs are financial success stories, this was one, said the team’s president, Nate Costa. It was also validation for him and for the ownership group that stepped up and brought hockey back to Springfield when the Falcons departed for Arizona.

There’s now an Eastern Conference Championship banner hanging in the MassMutual Center, and even more of a connection between the region and its pro hockey team.

 

Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade Returns

After a long, as in very long, two-year absence, the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade and road race returned in full force in March. The twin events have always been part of the fabric of the region and a huge contributor to the Greater Holyoke economy, and that became clear in interviews with parade organizers, city officials, and individual business owners in the weeks leading up to the parade for a story in BusinessWest that carried the headline: “The Return of a Tradition: For Holyoke, the Parade Brings Business — and a Sense of Normalcy.”

Business owners told BusinessWest that the parade and race account for large amounts of annual revenues, and that losing the events for two years due to COVID was devastating. But beyond business and vibrancy, something else went missing for those two years. Marc Joyce, president of the parade for the past three years, put it all in perspective.

“It’s in the mindset and emotions of people who have grown up here,” he said. “It’s a homecoming; people come back to the city, and you see people you haven’t seen since perhaps last year. It’s a wonderful, family-oriented event.”

 

The LEDC has a unique model

The LEDC has a unique model featuring coaches on matters ranging from accounting to mental health.

Latino EDC Opens Its Doors

The Latino Economic Development Corp. opened its doors to considerable fanfare in September, and with good reason. The agency, called the Latino EDC, or LEDC, has a broad mission and a unique business model, one aimed at helping businesses, especially Latino-owned businesses, open their doors and keep them open.

The LEDC, located on Fort Street in Springfield, is a place where more than two dozen coaches, experts in many aspects of business, will make themselves available to business owners and share what they know. Executive Director Andrew Meledez says the agency will focus on what he calls the three ‘Cs’ of helping business owners get where they want to go — coaching, capital, and connections. Overall, its goal is to turn employees into employers, and the agency is already capturing the attention of economic-development leaders in this region — and well beyond.

 

New College Presidents Take the Reins

College and university presidents are in many ways key regional voices, shaping public perspectives on issues through programs and initiatives they spearhead. And in 2022, that exclusive pool of influencers saw some significant ripples.

In April, Hubert Benitez, vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Academic Innovation and acting chief Inclusion officer at Rockhurst University, took the reins at American International College, replacing Vince Maniaci, who had been president there for 17 years.

Then Michelle Schutt, previously vice president of Community and Learner Services at the College of Southern Idaho, began her tenure as president of Greenfield Community College in July, replacing Richard Hopper, who had been interim president since the summer of 2021.

Also in July, Smith College announced that Sarah Willie-LeBreton, provost and dean of faculty at Swarthmore College, will replace Kathleen McCartney, who has served as president since 2013, starting in July 2023.

Finally, in June, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy announced he will retire in June 2023 after serving in that role since 2012, and the following month, Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College since 2017, announced she will retire in July 2023; searches are on to replace both.

 

new parking-garage facility at the MassMutual Center.

An architect’s rendering of the new parking-garage facility at the MassMutual Center.

Civic Center Parking Garage Comes Down — Finally

After years of talking about and working with state leaders to assemble the financing to build a replacement, the city tore down the crumbling Civic Center Parking Garage this fall. As the demolition crews began their work, workers in downtown office buildings paused to watch.

It wasn’t a landmark that was coming down, but rather a decaying structure that had become a symbol of all that Springfield was trying to put behind it — the hard economic times, aging infrastructure, and a downtown of another era.

While the long-awaited demise of the parking garage was news, the more exciting news is what’s going up in its place — a new, state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, 1,000-space facility, and activation of abutting property, acquired by the city, that will enable Springfield to create an atmosphere that officials say will be similar to the scene at Fenway Park on game nights.

 

transformation of the old Court Square Hotel

The transformation of the old Court Square Hotel is a long time coming.

Court Square Transformation Project Proceeds

When Dave Fontaine Jr. talks about work to renovate the former Court Square Hotel into market-rate apartments being a “generational project,’” he means it. Indeed, when he talked with BusinessWest about the initiative this past summer, he said he believes his father and grandfather were both involved in bids on projects to transform the property going back more than 30 years.

It’s taken decades of effort, but the transformation of the property is now well under way. The project is expected to not only bring new life to that historic property — in the form of 71 units of housing as well as retail on the ground floor — but also create more vibrancy in the city’s downtown and possibly be a catalyst for new hospitality and service-sector businesses.

The Court Square project is a true public-partnership, with funding support from several parties, including Winn Development, Opal Development, the state, the city, and MGM Springfield. And it will make sure that an important part of the city’s past is now a vital cog in its future.

 

Navigating Challenges in Auto Sales

This past year was another wild ride, if that’s the right term, for the region’s auto dealers. Indeed, the trends that emerged in 2020 and 2021 — from historically low levels of inventory to sky-high prices and low inventory of used cars — continued in 2022.

Matters improved to some degree for area dealers, but there were still many challenges to face — and still a number of used cars taking up space on the showroom floors.

But perhaps the biggest news in 2002 involved electric vehicles, with many dealers reporting huge increases in the sales of such models. There are several reasons why, but simple math is perhaps the biggest, with drivers of electric vehicles — after the initial investment, anyway — spending far less to get from here to there than those with gas-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs.

That trend is expected to continue into next year, say area dealers, as more makers introduce electric-vehicle lines.

 

Live Music Scene Expands

When the Drake opened in downtown Amherst in April, it became the town’s first-ever dedicated music venue, hosting everything from jazz and rock to funk and world music. And it opened at a time when demand for live music in the region is on the rise, and an increasing number of spaces are meeting the need.

With Eric Suher’s Iron Horse Music Hall, Pearl Street Nightclub, and Mountain Park shuttered to concerts these days and the Calvin Theatre hosting a bare trickle of tribute bands, others have picked up the slack.

They include not just the Drake, but Race Street Live, which hosts national touring acts in the Gateway City Arts complex in Holyoke; Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in downtown Greenfield, which schedules a robust slate of events across four spaces; MASS MoCA, which hosts concerts inside the museum and festivals outside it; Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, which opened in October 2021 in a converted 1861 church; and many more.

It’s clear that people are enjoying live music again, and a new generation of venues — and some venerable ones as well — are stepping up to meet that need.

 

Moving On from COVID

President Biden declared COVID over in September. With a winter setting in in which doctors are warning of a ‘tripledemic’ of flu, RSV, and COVID, that’s … well, not quite the truth, not with about 350 people still dying from COVID each day in the U.S., about 85% of them unvaccinated.

What is true is that, even as some people are still overcoming COVID, just about everyone is over it — and especially over the disruptions the pandemic caused to the global economy.

Still, moving on is easier said than done, as is shifting back to something resembling business as usual pre-2020. Construction firms still face challenges with scheduling and cost, knowing that the supply chain can be wildly inconsistent. Families still struggle with inflation, and are getting hit hard by the tonic being poured on it: higher interest rates for loans. As noted earlier, real-estate owners wonder whether a slowed market will remain so as tenants decide they need less space for a workforce that has gone largely remote and may remain so.

In short, moving on from COVID is a slow process, and its effects will continue to reverberate, no matter how much anyone — even the president — wishes it would just go away.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Opinion

Editorial

 

As the look-back story reveals, there were many important and intriguing stories that unfolded in 2002 — everything from the maturation and continued evolution of the cannabis industry to the reopening of the hotel in the Tower Square complex; from the long-awaited start to work at Court Square in Springfield to the Thunderbirds’ exciting run to the playoffs.

And, of course, there was the economy and rising inflation and skyrocketing interest rates — more challenges for already-challenged businesses of all sizes and in every sector.

But easily the biggest story of 2022 — and it is almost certain to be the biggest story of 2023 — involves the workforce issues facing area employers.

It was in 2022 that it became crystal clear that this issue is not a temporary glitch, another side effect of COVID, a problem created by the federal government making it way too easy for people to collect unemployment and not have to work.

No, it was in 2022 that we came to accept, or should have come to accept, that this problem has very deep roots and needs the full attention of everyone involved — from employers to economic-development agencies to state officials who set tax rates and ultimately determine how expensive it is to do business in this state.

Indeed, this past year, we saw a continuation of the issues we saw in 2021: Baby Boomers retiring, in some cases well before they get to 65, let alone 67; others who are not so old simply staying on the sidelines (how, we’re not exactly sure) and opting not to work certain jobs, especially those at the lower end of the pay scale; employees showing far less loyalty than they have historically and instead displaying a willingness to move on to something they know or perceive to be better; and job candidates accepting a position and then simply not showing up on their start date because they found something else in in the interim.

All this had an impact in 2021, and in 2022 there was even more of the same: healthcare facilities with long lists of open positions; hospitals paying huge amounts for travel nurses because they can’t find enough people to take full-time positions; restaurants forced to close more days of the week because they don’t have enough help; banks unable to fill key positions, even after they widened the search beyond the 413, something they can do thanks to remote work; individual businesses and entire sectors responding by increasing pay rates and benefits, even as they struggle to make ends meet; and businesses of all kinds saying simply, ‘we can’t find the help we need.’

This was the story in 2022, and, from all we can gather, there are simply no signs of improvement on the horizon. What is clear is that, in the years to come, finding this help will be an ongoing challenge, one for which there are no easy answers. Stakeholders will simply have to do everything they can to make this state an attractive place in which to do business and work, and to attract and retain as much talent as we can.

Failure to do so will have real consequences on the local economy and our collective ability to simply do business.

This is why, as we said, this isn’t just a top news story. It’s a problem that requires our full attention.

 

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Year-end Tax Planning

By Kristina Drzal Houghton, CPA, MST

tax planning 2022

As another tumultuous year draws to a close, both individuals and small-business owners are advised to assess their current tax situation, with an eye on maximizing available tax breaks and avoiding potential tax pitfalls. Planning should be based on the latest laws of the land.

Just look at the significant legislation enacted in recent years. Following the massive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act addressed various pandemic-related issues in 2020. In quick succession, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) extended certain CARES Act provisions and modified others, while the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) created even more tax-saving opportunities in 2021.

This series of new laws culminated in the Inflation Reduction Act (the IRA), passed in August 2022. The IRA, which is generally effective next year, includes several provisions that could have a big tax impact on individuals and business entities.

Kristina Drzal Houghton

Kristina Drzal Houghton

“We still might not be done. More proposed legislation has been introduced in Congress. If another new law featuring tax provisions is enacted before 2023, it may require you to revise your year-end tax-planning strategies.”

And we still might not be done. More proposed legislation has been introduced in Congress. If another new law featuring tax provisions is enacted before 2023, it may require you to revise your year-end tax-planning strategies.

 

BUSINESS TAX PLANNING

 

Depreciation-based Deductions

As we head into year-end, a business may benefit from one or more of three depreciation-based tax breaks: the Section 179 deduction; first-year ‘bonus’ depreciation; and regular depreciation. In consideration of this, consider the following:

Place qualified property in service before the end of the year. If your business does not start using the property before 2023, it is not eligible for these tax breaks.

Section 179 deduction: under Section 179 of the tax code, a business may ‘expense’ (i.e., currently deduct) the cost of qualified property placed in service any time during the year. The maximum annual deduction for 2022 is $1.08 million and is phased out on a dollar-for-dollar basis when total additions exceed $2.7 million. Be aware that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed the taxable income. This could limit your deduction for 2022.

First-year bonus depreciation: the TCJA authorized a 100% first-year bonus depreciation deduction through 2022. This includes used, as well as new, property. Be aware that most states do not allow this special bonus depreciation.

Regular depreciation: if any remaining acquisition cost remains, the balance may be deducted over time under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).

If you buy a heavy-duty SUV or van for business, you may claim a first-year Section 179 deduction of up to $25,000. The ‘luxury car’ limits do not apply to certain heavy-duty vehicles.

The first-year bonus depreciation deduction is scheduled to phase out over five years, beginning in 2023. Take full advantage while you can.

 

Business Meals

Previously, a business could deduct 50% of the cost of its qualified business entertainment expenses. However, the deduction for entertainment costs, including strictly social meals, was eliminated by the TCJA beginning in 2018.

The ARPA doubles the usual 50% deduction for allowable meals to 100% for food and beverages provided by restaurants in 2021 and 2022. This tax break is not expected to be extended.

 

Business Repairs

As more remote workers return to your regular workplace, the business may need to fix up the place. While expenses spent on making repairs are currently deductible, the cost of improvements to business property must be capitalized.

When appropriate, complete minor repairs before the end of the year. The deductions can offset taxable income in 2022.

As a rule of thumb, a repair keeps property in efficient operating condition, while an improvement prolongs the life of the property, enhances its value, or adapts it to a different use. For example, fixing a broken window is a repair, but the addition of a new wing to a business building is treated as an improvement.

 

State Income Taxes

Many states, including Massachusetts, have enacted so-called ‘work-arounds’ whereby flow-through entities such as Subchapter S corporations and partnerships can elect to pay the state tax at the entity level on behalf of the shareholders. The benefit comes from reduced federal taxable income flowing to the shareholder, which serves to circumvent the $10,000 cap for state and local taxes when calculating itemized deduction, which is discussed later. Most states do not give a dollar-for-dollar credit for the tax paid by the entity, but the federal tax benefit is typically larger than the reduced state credit.

The actual benefit will vary for each shareholder or parter and should be reviewed to determine the actual savings. If deemed to be beneficial, don’t miss any deadlines for electing to pay these taxes.

 

Miscellaneous

Stock up on routine supplies (especially if they are in high demand). If you buy the supplies in 2022, they are deductible in 2022 — even if they are not used until 2023.

If you accrue in 2022 but pay year-end bonuses to employees in 2023, the amounts are generally deductible by an accrual-basis company in 2022 and taxable to the employees in 2023. A calendar-year company operating on the accrual basis may be able to deduct bonuses paid as late as March 15, 2023 on its 2022 return.

Keep records of collection efforts (e.g., phone calls, emails, and dunning letters) to prove debts are worthless. This may allow you to claim a bad-debt deduction.

 

INDIVIDUAL TAX PLANNING

Itemized Deductions

Due to several related provisions in the TCJA, generally effective for 2018 through 2025, more individuals are claiming the standard deduction in lieu of itemizing deductions.

Make a quick analysis of your situation. Depending on the results, you may decide to accelerate certain expenses into 2022 or postpone them to 2023.

For instance, you may want to ‘bunch’ charitable donations in a year you expect to itemize deductions. (There is more on charitable deductions below.) Similarly, you might reschedule physician or dentist visits to provide the maximum medical deduction. The deduction for those expenses is limited to the excess above 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If you do not have a reasonable shot at deducting medical and dental expenses in 2022, you might as well postpone non-emergency expenses to 2023.

Note that the TCJA made other significant changes to itemized deductions. This includes a $10,000 annual cap on deductions for state and local tax (SALT) payments and suspension of the deduction for casualty and theft losses (except for qualified disaster-area losses). Since a repeal or modification of this cap is unlikely for 2022, wait to pay state estimates or real-estate taxes until January 2023 if they are not due in December.

The standard deduction for 2022 is generally $12,950 for single filers and $25,900 for joint filers.

 

Charitable Donations

If you still expect to itemize deductions in 2022, you may benefit from contributions to qualified charitable organizations made within generous tax-law limits.

Consider stepping up your charitable gift giving at year-end. As long as you make a donation in 2022, it is deductible on your 2022 return, even if you charge the donation by credit card as late as Dec. 31.

Note that the deduction limit for monetary contributions was increased to 100% of AGI for 2021, but the limit reverted to 60% of AGI for 2022. Nevertheless, this still provides plenty of flexibility for most taxpayers. Any excess may be carried over for up to five years.

Furthermore, if you donate appreciated property held longer than one year (i.e., it would qualify for long-term capital-gain treatment if sold), you can generally deduct an amount equal to the property’s fair market value (FMV). But the deduction for short-term capital-gain property is limited to your initial cost. Your annual deduction for property donations generally cannot exceed 30% of your AGI. As with monetary contributions, any excess may be carried over for up to five years.

The CARES Act established a maximum deduction of $300 for charitable donations by non-itemizers in 2020. The special deduction was then extended to 2021 and doubled to $600 for joint filers. As of this writing, this tax break is not available in 2022.

 

Electric Vehicle Credits

The IRA greenlights tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids over the next few years. But certain taxpayers will not qualify. Map out your plans accordingly.

Notably, the IRA includes the following changes:

The credit cannot be claimed by a single filer with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $150,000 or an MAGI of $300,000 for joint filers.

The credit is not available for most passenger vehicles that cost more than $55,000, or $80,000 for vans, sports utility vehicles, and pickup trucks.

The vehicle must be powered by batteries whose materials are sourced from the U.S. or its free-trade partners and must be assembled in North America.

The current threshold of 200,000 vehicles sold by a manufacturer is eliminated.

In addition, the IRA authorizes a credit of up to $4,000 for used vehicles if you are a single filer with an MAGI of no more than $75,000, or $150,000 for joint filers.

 

Residential Energy Credits

The IRA generally enhances the residential energy credits that are currently available to homeowners. Under the new law, you may benefit from two types of residential energy credits:

1. The 30% ‘residential clean-energy credit’ can generally be claimed for installing solar panels or other equipment to harness renewable energy like wind, geothermal energy, and biomass fuel. This credit, which was scheduled to phase out and end after 2023, is preserved at 30% from 2022 through 2032 before phasing out.

2. The 30% ‘non-business energy property credit’ can generally be claimed for up to $1,200 of the cost of installing energy-efficient exterior windows, skylights, exterior doors, water heaters, and other qualified items through 2032 before phasing out. For 2022, the credit remains at 10% with a maximum of $500.

 

Miscellaneous

Pay a child’s college tuition for the upcoming semester. The amount paid in 2022 may qualify for one of two higher education credits, subject to phaseouts based on your MAGI.

Avoid an estimated tax penalty by qualifying for a safe-harbor exception. Generally, a penalty will not be imposed if you pay 90% of your current year’s tax liability or 100% of your prior year’s tax liability (110% if your AGI exceeded $150,000).

Minimize the kiddie-tax problem by having your child invest in tax-deferred or tax-exempt securities. For 2022, unearned income above $2,300 that is received by a dependent child under age 19 (or under age 24 if a full-time student) is taxed at the top tax rate of the parents.

Empty out flexible spending accounts (FSAs) for healthcare or dependent-care expenses if you will forfeit unused funds under the ‘use-it-or-lose it’ rule. However, your employer’s plan may provide a carryover to 2023 or a two-and-a-half-month grace period.

Make home improvements that qualify for mortgage-interest deductions as acquisition debt. This includes loans made to substantially improve your principal residence or one other home. Note that the TCJA suspended deductions for home-equity debt for 2018 through 2025.

If you own property damaged in a federal disaster area in 2022, you may qualify for quick casualty loss relief by filing an amended 2021 return. The TCJA suspended the deduction for casualty losses for 2018 through 2025, but retained a current deduction for disaster-area losses.

 

FINANCIAL TAX PLANNING

Capital Gains and Losses

Frequently, investors ‘time’ sales of assets like securities at year-end to produce optimal tax results. It is important to understand the basic tax rules.

For starters, capital gains and losses offset each other. If you show an excess loss for the year, it offsets up to $3,000 of ordinary income before being carried over to the next year. Long-term capital gains from sales of securities owned longer than one year are taxed at a maximum rate of 15% or 20% for certain high-income investors. Conversely, short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income rates reaching as high as 37% in 2022.

Review your investment portfolio. If it makes sense, you may harvest capital losses to offset gains realized earlier in the year or cherry-pick capital gains that will be partially or wholly absorbed by prior losses.

 

Net Investment Income Tax

Investors should account for the 3.8% tax that applies to the lesser of net investment income (NII) or the amount by which MAGI for the year exceeds $200,000 for single filers or $250,000 for joint filers. The definition of NII includes interest, dividends, capital gains, and income from passive activities, but not Social Security benefits, tax-exempt interest, and distributions from qualified retirement plans and IRAs.

Make an estimate of your potential liability for 2022. Depending on the results, you may be able to reduce the tax on NII or avoid it altogether.

 

Required Minimum Distributions

As a general rule, you must receive required minimum distributions (RMDs) from qualified retirement plans and IRAs after reaching age 72 (recently raised from age 70½). The amount of the distribution is based on IRS life-expectancy tables and your account balance at the end of last year.

Arrange to receive RMDs before Dec. 31. Otherwise, you will have to pay a stiff tax penalty equal to 50% of the required amount (less any amount you have received) in addition to your regular tax liability.

Do not procrastinate if you have not arranged RMDs for 2022 yet. It may take some time for your financial institution to accommodate these transactions.

Conversely, if you are still working and do not own 5% or more of the business employing you, you can postpone RMDs from an employer’s qualified plan until your retirement. This ‘still working exception’ does not apply to RMDs from IRAs or qualified plans of employers for whom you no longer work.

 

Installment Sales

Normally, when you sell real estate at a gain, you must pay tax on the full amount of the capital gain in the year of the sale.

If you sell it under an arrangement qualifying as an installment sale, the taxable portion of each payment is based on the gross profit ratio, which is determined by dividing the gross profit from the real-estate sale by the price.

Not only does the installment sale technique defer some of the tax due on a real estate deal, it will often reduce your overall tax liability if you are a high-income taxpayer. That is because, by spreading out the taxable gain over several years, you may pay tax on a greater portion of the gain at the 15% capital-gain rate as opposed to the 20% rate.

If it suits your purposes (e.g., you have a low tax year), you may ‘elect out’ of installment sale treatment when you file your return.

 

Estate and Gift Taxes

During the last decade, the unified estate- and gift-tax exclusion has gradually increased, while the top estate rate has not budged. For example, the exclusion for 2022 is $12.06 million, the highest it has ever been. (It is scheduled to revert to $5 million, plus inflation indexing, in 2026.)

In addition, you can give gifts to family members that qualify for the annual gift-tax exclusion. For 2022, there is no gift-tax liability on gifts of up to $16,000 per recipient (up from $15,000 in 2021). The limit is $32,000 for a joint gift by a married couple.

You may ‘double up’ by giving gifts in both December and January that qualify for the annual gift-tax exclusion for 2022 and 2023, respectively. The IRS recently announced that the limit for 2023 is $17,000 per recipient.

 

Miscellaneous

Watch out for the ‘wash sale’ rule that disallows losses from a securities sale if you reacquire substantially identical securities within 30 days. Wait at least 31 days to buy them back.

Contribute up to $20,500 to a 401(k) in 2022 ($27,000 if you are age 50 or older). If you clear the 2022 Social Security wage base of $147,000 and promptly allocate the payroll-tax savings to a 401(k), you can increase your deferral without any further reduction in your take-home pay.

Weigh the benefits of a Roth IRA conversion, especially if this will be a low-tax year. Although the conversion is subject to current tax, you generally can receive tax-free distributions in retirement, unlike taxable distributions from a traditional IRA.

Skip this year’s RMD if you recently inherited an IRA and are required to empty out the account within 10 years. Under new IRS guidance, there is no penalty if you fail to take RMDs for 2021 or 2022. The IRS will issue final regulations soon.

If you rent out your vacation home, keep your personal use within the tax-law boundaries. No loss is allowed if personal use exceeds 14 days or 10% of the rental period.

Consider a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). If you are age 70½ or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 of IRA funds directly to a charity. Although the contribution is not deductible, the QCD is exempt from tax. This may improve your overall tax picture.

 

Conclusion

This year-end tax-planning article is based on the prevailing federal tax laws, rules, and regulations. Of course, it is subject to change, especially if additional tax legislation is enacted by Congress before the end of the year.

Finally, remember that these ideas are intended to serve only as a general guideline. Your personal circumstances will likely require careful examination. Consult with your tax adviser.

 

Kristina Drzal Houghton, CPA, MST is a partner at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 536-8510.

Opinion

Editorial

 

Flashing back almost three years ago to those early and very difficult days of the pandemic — yes, it seems like forever ago now — we were writing about how everyone was looking forward to the day when things would return to the way they were, meaning late 2019.

It was probably by the end of that year, and certainly by the middle of 2021, that everyone in business realized that we would not be returning to the way things were. In many cases, it’s because that simply wasn’t possible. But in most cases, it’s because we simply didn’t want to.

Indeed, we had learned new, different, and, in many ways, better and more efficient ways of doing things. This applies to everything from Zoom meetings with clients instead of seeing them in person to having homebuyers fill out mortgage applications online, to having many employees — the ones without direct contact with customers — working remotely.

It’s been a learning process, and it has continued even as the pandemic has waned in many respects, and other challenges have emerged, such as supply-chain issues and the workforce crisis. These issues have prompted companies to become smarter with everything from what and how much to order to what kinds of clients and projects to take on, to how and when to staff an office.

The learning continued in 2022, another very challenging year for businesses, who are due for one that isn’t. This past year brought us sky-high inflation, more shortages of needed products, ‘quiet quitting,’ more retirements among Baby Boomers, more ghosting when it came to job interviews and people showing up for the first day of work, and more frustration when it came to just filling open positions.

All this has led to adjustments and, as we noted earlier, conscious decisions not to go back to the way things were in 2019.

Many restaurants, for example, have been forced to reduce the number of days they are open due to shortages of help. In many cases, they’ve learned that this helps with retention of existing employees, improves morale, lessens burnout … and all without sharp, if any, overall drops in revenue and profits.

Meanwhile, many banquet halls and meeting venues have learned that less can sometimes mean more. Some are closing for the slow months of the year, and all of them are becoming more selective when it comes to which events they take on, choosing those with better margins and more profitability and foregoing those that are less so.

The result is that, while overall revenues are down in some cases, profitability is up. Hotels, plagued by staffing shortages, were simply not able to clean rooms as often during the months after they were allowed to reopen. Now, such policies have, in some establishments, become the new norm, enabling facilities to improve profits even while serving fewer guests.

Meanwhile, businesses across virtually all sectors have found benefits to not having everyone working on-site. Some have been able to reduce their overall space requirements, while nearly every business with remote-work or hybrid-work policies have found it easier to hire and retain employees and increase the talent pool by extending opportunities to those living outside the 413, or even the East Coast.

Yes, 2022 has been another ultra-challenging year for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy. But it’s also been another year to learn, adapt, and, in many cases, do things better and more profitably.

We haven’t gone ‘back to the way things were.’ And in many respects, that’s a good thing.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest 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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 135: November 7, 2022

George Interviews Mark Paglia, COO of Mira Vista Behavioral Health Center

Mark Paglia, COO of Mira Vista Behavioral Health Center — and a Healthcare Hero for 2022 — is the guest on BusinessTalk this week, and there was a lot to discuss with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien. Topics include the opening of Mira Vista in the middle of a pandemic, the behavioral health crisis that accompanied COVID, the ongoing, and  now often overlooked, opioid addiction problem in this country, and much more. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

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Event Galleries Healthcare Heroes Special Coverage

View the Gallery from the Oct. 27 Event

Watch the Oct. 27 Event Here

Show starts at 1:1:38

Healthcare Heroes Class of 2022

Overall, everyone who was nominated this year is a hero, but in the minds of our judges — the editors and management at BusinessWest — eight of these stories stood out among the others. The Healthcare Heroes for 2022 are (click on the names to read their stories):

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Cover Story Event Galleries Women of Impact 2022

Watch the Video from the Dec. 9 Event

This Year’s Class to Be Celebrated on Dec. 8

BusinessWest has long recognized the contributions of women within the business community and created the Women of Impact awards four years ago to further honor women who have the authority and power to move the needle in their business, are respected for accomplishments within their industries, give back to the community, and are sought out as respected advisors and mentors within their field of influence.

See the 2022 Women of Impact Digital section HERE

The eight stories below demonstrate that idea many times over. They detail not only what these women do for a living, but what they’ve done with their lives — specifically, how they’ve become innovators in their fields, leaders within the community, and, most importantly, inspirations to all those around them. The class of 2022 features:

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Special Coverage Super 60

A Tradition Returns

The Super 60, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s annual celebration of thriving companies in Western Mass., was riding high in 2019, when the program marked its 30th year.
Since then … well, you know the story. A pandemic and a wave of economic impacts not only curtailed live events in 2020 and 2021, but created anything but a festive environment for local businesses.
But the program is back this year, and chamber members are ready to celebrate success — and each other.
“It’s super exciting that we’re returning to in-person events in general, and we’re very excited to get back to Super 60,” said Diana Szynal, executive director of the Springfield Regional Chamber. “That’s an award that recognizes the success of local businesses, and it’s going to feel really good to be in person, celebrating business success.”
The Super 60 program celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the region. Businesses that rank in the top 30 of the Total Revenue and Revenue Growth categories for 2022 represent all sectors of the economy, including nonprofits, construction, insurance, finance, technology, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and more. Some have been named to the Super 60 once or many times before, and some are brand-new to the list.
 They are profiled below, with the top five in each category ranked and the rest listed alphabetically.

The Super 60 Luncheon

The annual Super 60 luncheon will be held on Thursday, Nov. 10 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The keynote speaker will be Myke Connolly, the serial entrepreneur behind the successful marketing venture known as Stand Out Truck.

Szybnal said she first connected with Connolly when she was leading the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and noticed the breadth of his activities in Western Mass.

“I was fascinated by his story, his energy, and his presence on social media and locally, and I thought he would be perfect to talk to all of us about his success,” she told BusinessWest. “And what better time than when we’re celebrating local success stories?”

The cost to attend the Super 60 luncheon is $60 for members and $75 for general admission, and reserved tables of eight or 10 are available. Visit myonlinechamber.chambermaster.com/eventregistration/register/6186 to sign up for what promises to be an inspiring afternoon.

TOTAL REVENUE

1. Fontaine Brothers Inc.
2. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.
3. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc.
4. Tighe & Bond
5. Springfield Automotive Partners LLC
American Environmental Inc.
Andrew Associates
Appleton Corp.
Axia Group Insurance Services Inc.
Baltazar Contractors
Bart Truck Equipment LLC
Baystate Blasting Inc.
Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc.
Chicopee Industrial Contractors Inc.
City Enterprise Inc.
The Dowd Agencies LLC
E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.
Freedom Credit Union
Hogan Technology Inc.
Keiter Corp.
Knight Machine Tool Co. Inc.
L & C Prescriptions Inc.
M. Jags Inc.
Market Mentors LLC
Maybury Associates Inc.
Paragus Strategic IT
Pioneer Valley Financial Group LLC
Sanderson MacLeod Inc.
Springfield Hockey LLC
V & F Auto

REVENUE GROWTH

1. Vanished Valley Inc.
2. Monty’s Motorsport LLC
3. Campora Construction Co Inc.
4. City Enterprise Inc.
5. Fontaine Brothers Inc.
Axia Group Insurance Services Inc.
Bart Truck Equipment LLC
Baystate Blasting Inc.
Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc.
Chicopee Industrial Contractors Inc.
The Dowd Agencies LLC
Embracing The Creative Child LLC
FIT Staffing
Keiter Corp.
Knight Machine Tool Co. Inc.
L & C Prescriptions Inc.
L & L Property Service LLC
Ludlow Eye Care P.C.
M. Jags Inc.
The Markens Group
Market Mentors LLC
Maybury Associates Inc.
Northeast Security Solutions Inc.
Pioneer Valley Financial Group LLC
Sanderson MacLeod Inc.
Seaboard Drilling Inc.
Springfield Automotive Partners LLC
Springfield Hockey LLC
Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc.
V & F Auto

Total REVENUE

1. Fontaine Brothers Inc.
510 Cottage St., Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 781-2020
www.fontainebros.com
David Fontaine Sr., President
Fontaine Brothers offers services such as general contracting, with a focus on K-12 schools, higher education, commercial properties, historical renovations, municipal work, and green buildings, as well as construction management. The firm has been family-owned and operated for 89 years.

2. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.
One Whalley Way, Southwick, MA 01077
(413) 596-4200
www.wca.com
Michael Sheil, President
Whalley Computer Associates offers data-center services, cloud backup, managed services, training, desktop services, network services, and staff-augmentation services. The company focuses its work in the corporate, finance, healthcare, K-12, higher education, retail, and SMB industries.

3. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc.
1025 Main St., Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 650-9041
www.marcotteford.com
Mike Marcotte, President
Marcotte Ford Sales is a car dealership selling and financing new and used cars, trucks, and SUVs. The dealership also offers a wide range of parts and services, such as tires, brakes, oil changes, repairs, and alignment checks.

4. Tighe & Bond
53 Southampton Road, Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 562-1600
www.tighebond.com
Robert Belitz, President and CEO
Tighe & Bond offers engineering, design, planning, and environmental-consulting services, with focuses in building, transportation, water and wastewater engineering, coastal and waterfront solutions, environmental consulting, GIS and asset management, landscape architecture and urban design, civil engineering, and site planning.

5. Springfield Automotive Partners LLC
295 Burnett Road, Chicopee, MA 01020
(413) 624-4100
www.mbspringfield.com
Peter and Michelle Wirth, owners
Springfield Automotive Partners is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz of Springfield. With a showroom in Chicopee, the dealership sells new and used cars, as well as financing and buying back cars. The location offers service, parts, and tires for all maintenance needs, and provides roadside assistance and vehicle inspections.

American Environmental Inc.
18 Canal St., Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 322-7190
www.amerenviro.com
Charles Hughes, President
American Environmental is a family-owned business providing services like asbestos abatement, structural demolition, boiler removal, commercial lead abatement, concrete cutting, floor preparation, interior demolition, water-jet blasting, roll-off service, and shot blasting. It has worked with property managers, schools, universities, hospitals, churches, stores, industrial sites, and public facilities.

Andrew Associates
6 Pearson Way, Enfield, CT 06082
(860) 253-0000
www.andrewdm.com
Tina Bazarian, Owner and CFO;
Graeme Bazarian, President
Andrew Associates is a printing and mailing service that makes signage and graphics for businesses, nonprofits, and government, with services including bindery, kitting, insertion, and postal presort. It also specializes in data security and analysis to better target viewers.

Appleton Corp.
800 Kelly Way, Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 536-8048
www.appletoncorporation.com
Matt Flink, President
Appleton Corp., a division of the O’Connell Companies, provides property, facilities, and asset-management services, along with accounting and financial services, to managers and owners of commercial and residential properties across New England.

Axia Group Insurance Services Inc.
84 Myron St., Suite A, West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 788-9000
www.axiagroup.net
Michael long, CEO
Axia Group Insurance Services is an independent insurance agency that provides personal lines of insurance, business insurance, and employee benefits, as well as group insurance plans. It represents numerous insurance companies, such as Liberty Mutual, MAPFRE, MassMutual, and Progressive.

Baltazar Contractors
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-6160
www.baltazarcontractors.com
Paulo Baltazar, President
Baltazar Contractors is a heavy civil construction company with services in utility construction, roadway construction, site work and development, culvert/bridge construction, earth support and shoring, and trenchless technology. It was started 29 years ago and has remained family-owned.

Bart Truck Equipment LLC
358 River St., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 737-2766
www.barttruckllc.com
James DiClementi, President
Bart Truck Equipment is a heavy-duty parts and trucking service company, offering different bodies (dump, platform, utility/service), snow plows and other winter removal equipment, truck-mounted generators, hook lifts and roll-offs, and more. It also custom-builds and fabricates parts for clients. It serves contractors, landscapers, fleets, municipalities, utility companies, and homeowners.

Baystate Blasting Inc.
36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-4440
www.baystateblasting.com
Dinis Baltazar, President and CEO
Baystate Blasting offers services in ledge and rock removal, rock blasting, and rock crushing. It performs large and small construction-site preparation, road and highway work, line drilling and trench work, quarry shots, and residential work such as foundations and inground pools. It is federally licensed as both a dealer and user of explosive materials.

Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc.
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-7856
Dinis Baltazar, President and CEO
Baystate Crushing and Recycling is a family-owned drilling and blasting firm that provides a full range of rock-blasting and rock-crushing services, including site work, heavy highway construction, residential work, quarry, and portable crushing and recycling. A federally licensed dealer of explosives, it offers rental of individual magazines and is a sister company to Baystate Blasting Inc.

Chicopee Industrial Contractors Inc.
107 North Chicopee St, Chicopee, MA 01020
(413) 538-7279
www.chicopeeindustrial.com
Carol Campbell, President and CEO
Chicopee Industrial Contractors is a woman-owned industrial contracting firm that specializes in rigging, heavy lifting, machinery moving, machine installation, millwrighting, machine repair, heavy hauling, plant relocations, concrete pads, foundations, and structural steel installations. It is celebrating its 30th year in business.

City Enterprise Inc.
52-60 Berkshire Ave., Springfield, MA 01109
(413) 726-9549
www.cityenterpriseinc.com
Wonderlyn Murphy, President and CEO
City Enterprise is a minority- and woman-owned design, build, and renovation construction firm specializing in government, municipal, and commercial projects. It has performed work on the Springfield Armory, various UMass locations, the Northampton VA Medical Center, and the Donohue Federal Courthouse. This is its eighth consecutive year on the Super 60 list.

The Dowd Agencies LLC
14 Bobala Road, Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 538-7444
www.dowd.com
John Dowd Jr., President and CEO
The Dowd Agencies is an insurance agency that provides personal (automotive, renters, home, and condominium) and business (liability, commercial auto, liability, and more) insurance, as well as employee benefits. It also offers group packages for personal and business plans. The Dowd Agencies has been family-owned since 1865, welcoming its fifth generation in 2019.

E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.
5 Rose Place, Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 732-1462
www.efcorcoran.com
Brian Toomey, President
E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating is a full-service plumbing and HVAC contractor, offering 24-hour plumbing services, HVAC installation, gas piping, boilers, heat recovery, and more. It serves the commercial, industrial, medical, and institutional industries and has performed work for Baystate Noble Hospital, Springfield College, UMass, Mercy Medical Center, and Stop & Shop.

Freedom Credit Union
1976 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 739-6961
www.freedom.coop
Glenn Welch, President and CEO
Freedom Credit Union is a credit union that offers banking and loan services to businesses, the cannabis industry, and individuals. It also offers insurance plans for individuals and an investment-services division. The institution is celebrating its centennial in 2022.

Hogan Technology Inc.
81 East St., Easthampton, MA 01027
(413) 585-9950
www.teamhogan.com
Sean Hogan, President
Since 1986, Hogan Technology has offered a range of technology services to businesses, which now include audio-visual installation, cable installation, digital signage, and network infrastructure installation. Now run by Sean and his brother Andy, Hogan offers business clients value-added benefits including a trained team of certified installation and support professionals.

Keiter Corp.
35 Main St., Florence, MA 01062
(413) 586-8600
www.keiter.com
Scott Keiter, President
Keiter Corp. is a construction-services company working with clients on residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional projects of all sizes. The firm is divided into four divisions: Keiter Builders, Keiter Homes, Hatfield Construction, and Keiter Properties. The company has performed work for Amherst College, Bacon Wilson in Northampton, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and Look Park.

Knight Machine Tool Co. Inc.
1 Industrial Dr., South Hadley, MA 01075
(413) 532-2507
www.knightmachine.net
Gary O’Brien, President
Knight Machine Tool Co. Inc. specializes in machine and inspection equipment, such as head lathes, grinders, drill presses, calipers, and gages. It also offers turning, milling, round and flat lapping, EDM wire cutting, wet surface grinding, assembly, plating, and more. The company is ITAR-registered and ISO-certified.

L & C Prescriptions Inc.
155 Brookdale Dr., Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 781-2996
www.medibubble.com
Dr. Kara James, President
L & C Prescriptions, the parent company for Louis & Clark Pharmacy, provides medication solutions to individuals, healthcare providers, and assisted-living, independent-living, and memory-care communities, and offers online prescription refills, MediBubble pre-packaged pills, blister packs to manage daily medications, vial synchronization, consultations with registered pharmacists, and a delivery service.

M. Jags Inc.
197 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 781-4352
www.taplinyardpumpandpower.com
Martin Jagodowski, President
M. Jags, also known as Taplin Yard, Pump and Power Equipment, is a supplier of water pumps, water conditioners, pump-repair services, and yard and garden power equipment. It offers new and used parts and services for repairs, as well as financing options and a parts finder on its website.

Market Mentors LLC
155 Brookdale Dr.,
Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 787-1133
www.marketmentors.com
Michelle Abdow, President
Market Mentors helps other businesses with marketing, advertising, public relations, graphic design, and website design. It serves the automotive, educational, energy, banking and finance, healthcare, insurance, industrial and manufacturing, legal, nonprofit, retail, political, services, sports, and entertainment sectors, and has worked with multiple companies on the Super 60 list, like the Dowd Agencies and Freedom Credit Union.

Maybury Associates Inc.
90 Denslow Road,
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
(888) 629-2879
www.maybury.com
John Maybury, President and CEO
Maybury Associates is a material-handling equipment company that provides parts and services, warehouse design, rentals, and products for sale to businesses big and small. It offers forklifts, cleaning equipment (sweepers, scrubbers, industrial and commercial vacuums, etc.), racking, conveyors, dock equipment, modular office construction materials, and more, and has been awarded with the MHEDA Most Valuable Partner award 12 years running.

Paragus Strategic IT
112 Russell St., Hadley, MA 01035
(413) 587-2666
www.paragusit.com
Delcie Bean IV, CEO
Paragus Strategic IT is an technology provider for small to medium-sized businesses in Western and Central Mass., offering both outsourced and co-managed IT experiences, allowing the client to choose what their preferred IT management looks like. Paragus serves the legal, manufacturing, medical and dental, cannabis, veterinary, insurance, and nonprofit sectors, among others.

Pioneer Valley Financial Group LLC
535 East St., Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 589-1500
www.pvfinancial.com
Charles Meyers, Edward Sokolowski, and Joseph Leonczyk, Founding Partners
Pioneer Valley Financial Group is a financial-planning service, offering services in retirement planning, business planning, asset growth, college funding, estate planning, tax planning, and risk management. It serves retirees, professionals, service members, young adults, and small and medium-sized businesses.

Sanderson MacLeod Inc.
1199 South Main St., Palmer, MA 01069
(866) 522-3481
www.sandersonmacleod.com
Mark Borsari, President and CEO
Sanderson MacLeod innovates, manufactures, and sources wire brushes, stylets, and assemblies. It serves the medical, cosmetic, firearms, and OEM industries. The company invented the twisted-wire mascara brush, the ZTip, and multiple other patented designs.

Springfield Hockey LLC
1 Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 02110
(413) 746-4100
www.springfieldthunderbirds.com
Nathan Costa, President
Springfield Hockey LLC, better known as the Springfield Thunderbirds, is the local affiliate of the St. Louis Blues and and the American Hockey League’s 2021-22 Eastern Conference Champion. The team gives back to the community in multiple ways, like the Thunderbirds Foundation, Stick to Reading school programs, Hometown Salute, Frontline Fridays, and more.

V & F Auto
443 Springfield St., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 789-2181
www.vfauto.com
Frank Palange, President
V & F Auto is an automotive repair company that offers vehicle sales and financing as well as auto services, including brake repairs, alternator repairs, oil changes, engine repairs and maintenance, radiator and cooling system maintenance, and more. It has been family-owned since 1988.

REVENUE GROWTH

1. Vanished Valley Inc.
782 Center St., Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 610-1572
www.vanishedvalley.com
Mike Rodrigues, Restaurant Owner;
Josh Britton, Brewery Owner
Vanished Valley Inc. is a small-batch brewery that is family- and pet-friendly and holds events in its taproom and beer garden. The restaurant menu includes appetizers, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and barbeque. On tap, the brewery offers IPAs, seltzers, lagers, ales, and stouts, as well as wine and spirits.

2. Monty’s Motorsport LLC
1 Arch Road, Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 642-8199
www.montysmotorsports.com
Monty Geer, Owner
Monty’s Motorsport is a parts, sales, service, and gear store for motorsport vehicles, such as four-wheelers, dirt bikes, motorcycles, electric bikes, street bikes, and more. It offers new and used vehicles, with financing options available, as well as services such as winterization, battery inspections, accessory installations, chain adjustments, oil and filter changes, and full engine rebuilds.

3. Campora Construction Co Inc.
43 Owens Way, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 610-1660
www.camporacc.com
Mario Campora, President
Campora Construction specializes in full-scale building construction and sidewalk, patio, and driveway installation for residential, commercial, and governmental projects. Services include custom home design and construction, complete home rebuilds from fire damage, home additions and sunroom installation, concrete demolition and infills, and commercial office fit-outs.

4. City Enterprise Inc.
52-60 Berkshire Ave., Springfield, MA 01109
(413) 726-9549
www.cityenterpriseinc.com
Wonderlyn Murphy, President and CEO
City Enterprise is a minority- and woman-owned design, build, and renovation construction firm specializing in government, municipal, and commercial projects. It has performed work on the Springfield Armory, various UMass locations, the Northampton VA Medical Center, and the Donohue Federal Courthouse. This is its eighth consecutive year on the Super 60 list.


5. Fontaine Brothers Inc.
510 Cottage St., Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 781-2020
www.fontainebros.com
David Fontaine Sr., President
Fontaine Brothers offers services such as general contracting, with a focus on K-12 schools, higher education, commercial properties, historical renovations, municipal work, and green buildings, as well as construction management. The firm has been family-owned and operated for 89 years.

Axia Group Insurance Services Inc.
84 Myron St., Suite A, West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 788-9000
www.axiagroup.net
Michael long, CEO
Axia Group Insurance Services is an independent insurance agency that provides personal lines of insurance, business insurance, and employee benefits, as well as group insurance plans. It represents numerous insurance companies, such as Liberty Mutual, MAPFRE, MassMutual, and Progressive.

Bart Truck Equipment LLC
358 River St., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 737-2766
www.barttruckllc.com
James DiClementi, President
Bart Truck Equipment is a heavy-duty parts and trucking service company, offering different bodies (dump, platform, utility/service), snow plows and other winter removal equipment, truck-mounted generators, hook lifts and roll-offs, and more. It also custom-builds and fabricates parts for clients. It serves contractors, landscapers, fleets, municipalities, utility companies, and homeowners.

Baystate Blasting Inc.
36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-4440
www.baystateblasting.com
Dinis Baltazar, President and CEO
Baystate Blasting offers services in ledge and rock removal, rock blasting, and rock crushing. It performs large and small construction-site preparation, road and highway work, line drilling and trench work, quarry shots, and residential work such as foundations and inground pools. It is federally licensed as both a dealer and user of explosive materials.

Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc.
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-7856
Dinis Baltazar, President and CEO
Baystate Crushing and Recycling is a family-owned drilling and blasting firm that provides a full range of rock-blasting and rock-crushing services, including site work, heavy highway construction, residential work, quarry, and portable crushing and recycling. A federally licensed dealer of explosives, it offers rental of individual magazines and is a sister company to Baystate Blasting Inc.

Chicopee Industrial Contractors Inc.
107 North Chicopee St, Chicopee, MA 01020
(413) 538-7279
www.chicopeeindustrial.com
Carol Campbell, President and CEO
Chicopee Industrial Contractors is a woman-owned industrial contracting firm that specializes in rigging, heavy lifting, machinery moving, machine installation, millwrighting, machine repair, heavy hauling, plant relocations, concrete pads, foundations, and structural steel installations. It is celebrating its 30th year in business.

The Dowd Agencies LLC
14 Bobala Road, Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 538-7444
www.dowd.com
John Dowd Jr., President and CEO
The Dowd Agencies is an insurance agency that provides personal (automotive, renters, home, and condominium) and business (liability, commercial auto, liability, and more) insurance, as well as employee benefits. It also offers group packages for personal and business plans. The Dowd Agencies has been family-owned since 1865, welcoming its fifth generation in 2019.

Embracing The Creative Child LLC
55 Deer Park Dr., East Longmeadow, MA 01028
(413) 525-1500
www.embracingthecreativechild.com
Sarah Gale, Owner
Embracing The Creative Child offers applied behavioral analysis (ABA) programs for children and young adults with developmental disabilities. Programs are geared towards the individual’s needs. Programs include at-home ABA programs, social skill groups, school consultations, and professional development for educators.

FIT Staffing
9½ Market St., Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 733-6466
www.fitstaffingsolutions.com
Anthony Ciak, Division Manager
FIT Staffing is an IT recruitment agency for both the employee and employer that serves all of New England. The agency offers a job search board similar to Indeed, and is affiliated with Maraton Staffing, ASA Recruitment, and the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast.

Keiter Corp.
35 Main St., Florence, MA 01062
(413) 586-8600
www.keiter.com
Scott Keiter, President
Keiter Corp. is a construction-services company working with clients on residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional projects of all sizes. The firm is divided into four divisions: Keiter Builders, Keiter Homes, Hatfield Construction, and Keiter Properties. The company has performed work for Amherst College, Bacon Wilson in Northampton, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and Look Park.

Knight Machine Tool Co. Inc.
1 Industrial Dr.,
South Hadley, MA 01075
(413) 532-2507
www.knightmachine.net
Gary O’Brien, President
Knight Machine Tool Co. Inc. specializes in machine and inspection equipment, such as head lathes, grinders, drill presses, calipers, and gages. It also offers turning, milling, round and flat lapping, EDM wire cutting, wet surface grinding, assembly, plating, and more. The company is ITAR-registered and ISO-certified.

L & C
Prescriptions Inc.
155 Brookdale Dr.,
Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 781-2996
www.medibubble.com
Dr. Kara James, President
L & C Prescriptions, the parent company for Louis & Clark Pharmacy, provides medication solutions to individuals, healthcare providers, and assisted-living, independent-living, and memory-care communities, and offers online prescription refills, MediBubble pre-packaged pills, blister packs to manage daily medications, vial synchronization, consultations with registered pharmacists, and a delivery service.

L & L Property
Service LLC
582 Amostown Road, West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 732-2739
Todd Lapinski and Eddie Lapinski, Owners
L & L Property Service is a locally owned company providing an array of property services, including lawn care, snow removal, sanding, excavations, patios and stone walls, hydroseeding, and more. It is a family-owned business.

Ludlow Eye Care P.C.
200 Center St., #1, Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-3600
Dr. Catarzyna Babinski, Owner
Ludlow Eye Care is a practice specializing in optometry and offering eyeglass fittings, adjustments, repairs, sunglasses, and contact lenses. It also offers specialty glasses, such as blue-light glasses, computer glasses, kids’ glasses, reading glasses, and rimless frames.

M. Jags Inc.
197 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 781-4352
www.taplinyardpumpandpower.com
Martin Jagodowski, President
M. Jags, also known as Taplin Yard, Pump and Power Equipment, is a supplier of water pumps, water conditioners, pump-repair services, and yard and garden power equipment. It offers new and used parts and services for repairs, as well as financing options and a parts finder on its website.

The Markens Group
1350 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 686-9199
www.markens.com
Ben Markens, President; Jennie Markens, Partner
The Markens Group is an association management group that provides outsourced professional services including strategic leadership, financial management, event planning, member services, marketing and communications, program management, website and social-media services, and general administration to trade associations, membership societies, and not-for-profits.

Market Mentors LLC
155 Brookdale Dr., Springfield, MA 01104
(413) 787-1133
www.marketmentors.com
Michelle Abdow, President
Market Mentors helps other businesses with marketing, advertising, public relations, graphic design, and website design. It serves the automotive, educational, energy, banking and finance, healthcare, insurance, industrial and manufacturing, legal, nonprofit, retail, political, services, sports, and entertainment sectors, and has worked with multiple companies on the Super 60 list, like the Dowd Agencies and Freedom Credit Union.

Maybury Associates Inc.
90 Denslow Road, East Longmeadow, MA 01028
(888) 629-2879
www.maybury.com
John Maybury, President and CEO
Maybury Associates is a material-handling equipment company that provides parts and services, warehouse design, rentals, and products for sale to businesses big and small. It offers forklifts, cleaning equipment (sweepers, scrubbers, industrial and commercial vacuums, etc.), racking, conveyors, dock equipment, modular office construction materials, and more, and has been awarded with the MHEDA Most Valuable Partner award 12 years running.

Northeast Security Solutions Inc.
33 Sylvan St., #1, West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 732-8748
www.northeastsecuritysolutions.com
George Condon III and David Condon, Co-owners
Northeast Security Solutions supplies security products and services within Western Mass., Northern Connecticut, and Southern Vermont. It offers door hardware, key control, locks, safes, burglar alarms, fire alarms, surveillance cameras, access control, and fire-extinguisher testing and inspections, and has been family-owned for the past 30 years.

Pioneer Valley Financial Group LLC
535 East St., Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 589-1500
www.pvfinancial.com
Charles Meyers, Edward Sokolowski, and Joseph Leonczyk, Founding Partners
Pioneer Valley Financial Group is a financial-planning service, offering services in retirement planning, business planning, asset growth, college funding, estate planning, tax planning, and risk management. It serves retirees, professionals, service members, young adults, and small and medium-sized businesses.

Sanderson MacLeod Inc.
1199 South Main St., Palmer, MA 01069
(866) 522-3481
www.sandersonmacleod.com
Mark Borsari, President and CEO
Sanderson MacLeod innovates, manufactures, and sources wire brushes, stylets, and assemblies. It serves the medical, cosmetic, firearms, and OEM industries. The company invented the twisted-wire mascara brush, the ZTip, and multiple other patented designs.

Seaboard Drilling Inc.
649 Meadow St., Chicopee, MA 01013
(800) 595-1114
www.seaboarddrilling.com
Jeffery Campbell, President and CEO
Seaboard Drilling is a geotechnical and environmental drilling services firm. It offers geotechnical and environmental borings, installation of standard and small-diameter monitoring wells, peizometers, geotechnical instruments, remedial recovery wells, and direct-push soil probing and sample retrieval.

Springfield Automotive
Partners LLC
295 Burnett Road,
Chicopee, MA 01020
(413) 624-4100
www.mbspringfield.com
Peter and Michelle Wirth, owners
Springfield Automotive Partners is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz of Springfield. With a showroom in Chicopee, the dealership sells new and used cars, as well as financing and buying back cars. The location offers service, parts, and tires for all maintenance needs, and provides roadside assistance and vehicle inspections.

Springfield Hockey LLC
1 Monarch Place,
Springfield, MA 02110
(413) 746-4100
www.springfieldthunderbirds.com
Nathan Costa, President
Springfield Hockey LLC, better known as the Springfield Thunderbirds, is the local affiliate of the St. Louis Blues and and the American Hockey League’s 2021-22 Eastern Conference Champion. The team gives back to the community in multiple ways, like the Thunderbirds Foundation, Stick to Reading school programs, Hometown Salute, Frontline Fridays, and more.

Tavares and Branco
Enterprises Inc.
1428 Center St., Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 547-6667
www.villaroserestaurant.com
Tony Tavares, Owner
Tavares and Branco Enterprises owns and operates the Villa Rose Restaurant, lounge, and banquet hall, specializing in Portuguese and American cuisine. With a capacity of 150, the facility caters for parties, funerals, and weddings of 30 people or more. Villa Rose also offers breakfast and brunch for those who are looking to book a shower, seminar, business meeting, corporate functions, and more.

V & F Auto
443 Springfield St., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 789-2181
www.vfauto.com
Frank Palange, President
V & F Auto is an automotive repair company that offers vehicle sales and financing as well as auto services, including brake repairs, alternator repairs, oil changes, engine repairs and maintenance, radiator and cooling system maintenance, and more. It has been family-owned since 1988.

Women of Impact 2022

Principal, Kuhn Riddle Architects

She’s Created a Blueprint for Being an Effective Leader

Aelan Tierney

Aelan Tierney was recalling her search for an internship opportunity while in high school.

This was before the internet, so she used something quite foreign to people of that age today — the phone book. Starting in the A’s, she came to ‘Advertising,’ thought about it for a minute or two, and then continued turning pages until arriving at ‘Architecture,’ and decided that this was a profession she needed to explore.

When asked why she moved down the book from advertising, she said simply, “it was interesting, but it wasn’t three-dimensional.”

Architecture is, and that’s just one of the many things she likes about what eventually became her chosen field.

“Architecture impacts every aspect of our life, whether it’s your home, school, or place of work,” she told BusinessWest. “The experiences you have are shaped by the spaces that you’re in; if you’re in a good space, you do and feel good, and if you’re in a bad space, it can make your life difficult. I like how architecture makes an impact on people.”

As it turns out, that high-school internship spawned more than an interest in architecture. It started Tierney down a truly impactful career path, as an employer (she’s president of the Amherst-based firm Kuhn Riddle), as someone active her in profession and trying to diversify its ranks (much more on that later), and as someone active in her community, as a member of the board of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, for example, and also as chair of the Northampton Central Business Architecture Committee.

“Architecture impacts every aspect of our life, whether it’s your home, school, or place of work. The experiences you have are shaped by the spaces that you’re in; if you’re in a good space, you do and feel good, and if you’re in a bad space, it can make your life difficult. I like how architecture makes an impact on people.”

One internship didn’t inspire all that, obviously. What has is an ongoing desire to get involved (she’s a former Peace Corps volunteer), inspire and mentor others, and, yes, impact everyday lives through her work in architecture.

In all aspects of her life, Tierney would be considered a leader, and to her, that means someone who possesses many skills, but excels at listening and responding to what is heard. This is true when it comes to the relationship between an architect and a client, in the workplace, and in life in general.

“Listening and hearing what people are saying is really important,” she said. “We all come from very different life experiences that shape who we are and how we see and understand the world. Strong leaders try to best understand the goals and aspirations of the people they are leading.

“I think strong leaders also know how to bring the best people to them and then bring out the best in them,” she went on. “They learn the strengths of the people on their team, and they cultivate and support the growth of those strengths while also figuring out how to help them strengthen their weaknesses.”

Aelan Tierney says the past few years brought challenges
Aelan Tierney says the past few years brought challenges the industry hadn’t seen before, but Kuhn Riddle was able to ride out the storm.

Tierney certainly fits these descriptions, and her strong leadership skills and ability to change the landscape, in all kinds of ways, makes her a Woman of Impact.

New Dimensions of Leadership

Architecture is one of those fields that is most impacted by the ups and downs in the economy, especially those downs.

And those in this profession feel the impact usually before most others.

Indeed, as the economy starts to decline, or even before that as storm clouds start to gather, building projects large and small are often put on hold or scrapped altogether. Tierney has seen the phone stop ringing, or ringing as often, several times in her career, especially during the Great Recession of 2009, when most building ground to a halt.

Still, the pandemic that started in March 2020, was something altogether different, unlike anything she or anyone else in this profession had seen before.

“Listening and hearing what people are saying is really important. We all come from very different life experiences that shape who we are and how we see and understand the world. Strong leaders try to best understand the goals and aspirations of the people they are leading.”

“It was scary,” she recalled, noting that many of the public institutions Kuhn Riddle has worked for, and it’s a long list, simply shut down and shelved most all construction and renovation work. “We actually started talking about … ‘well, what happens if we have to close the firm?’”

The firm didn’t close, obviously, and it was Tierney’s work with her partners and others at the company to diversify its portfolio — as well as those leadership skills she described earlier — that enabled it to ride out this and other storms.

“During the pandemic, I learned that leaders have to think quickly on their feet; they have to gather as much information as possible about things they never thought they would be dealing with,” she said. “They need to communicate clearly and frequently in an ever-changing and rapidly changing crisis. They need to make tough decisions, and hopefully keep the business and all of the staff afloat.”

Tierney said everything she experienced prior to the pandemic helped prepare her for that moment — as much as anyone could have been prepared. And to understand, we need to go back to that internship. Actually, our story goes back further, to Tierney’s childhood, when she spent considerable time in her father’s woodworking school for fine furniture and watching him craft pieces to meet a client’s specific needs. It was through such experiences that she developed an interest in architecture.

“I thought it was fascinating to take something from paper and transform it into an object,” she said, adding that this interest eventually led her to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she majored in architecture and minored in architecture history.

She graduated during one of those aforementioned downturns in the economy, the lengthy recession of the early ’90s. Unable to find work, she joined the Peace Corps as a community-development volunteer and was assigned to work in Guinea in West Africa — a learning experience on many levels, and one in which she put her education to good use.

“I was a health and community-development volunteer, and I renovated an old warehouse building into a workshop for a women’s cooperative,” she recalled. “It was amazing job to have to have as young woman in a developing country.”

She started her career in architecture at Dietz & Co. Architects in Springfield, led by Kerry Dietz, a member of BusinessWest’s inaugural class of Women of Impact, whom Tierney described as a great mentor. She then joined Kuhn Riddle in 2005 and became president and majority owner in 2016.

As an architect, she works on projects across a broad spectrum, including residential, commercial, education, and nonprofits. Her portfolio includes a number of intriguing projects, including the renovation of Easthampton’s historic Town Hall, the Gaylord Mansion historic renovation at Elms College, the new Girls Inc. of the Valley headquarters and program center in Holyoke, the Olympia Oaks affordable-housing project in Amherst, the Kringle Candle Farm Table restaurant in Bernardston, and many others. While the projects vary in size and scope, a common thread is the partnership between the client, architect, and builder that makes a dream become reality.

The new Girls Inc. headquarters in Holyoke
The new Girls Inc. headquarters in Holyoke
The new Girls Inc. headquarters in Holyoke is one of many projects in the diverse portfolio compiled by Kuhn Riddle and its president, Aelan Tierney.

“As an architect, I strive to listen to my clients to learn about what types of spaces would make their lives better, and then, hopefully, we create those spaces together,” she said. “My greatest satisfaction is facilitating the collaboration between the client, design professionals, and builders to realize a client’s vision.”

In her current role, she balances her design work with her leadership responsibilities, which include setting a tone, leading by example, and creating an effective culture for the firm.

“As president of Kuhn Riddle, I strive to make our work environment as supportive as possible for our staff,” she explained. “We love what we do, but we also have lives and families outside of work, and it is important to me that everyone here has a work/life balance. I believe that people will give their best when they feel that they are being given the best possible support and appreciation.”

For Tierney, balance means time with family, but also for giving back to the community. She has been a member of the Amherst Area Chamber board for several years now, and is currently a member of its diversity task force. Formerly, she served on the board of the Enchanted Circle Theatre.

As noted earlier, she is chair of the Northampton Central Business Architecture Committee, and also vice chair of the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Architects, as well as a member of the diversity committee of the National Council of Architecture Registration Boards.

“ It was an anti-beauty pageant, because it wasn’t about looks. It was all about owning who you are, being who you are, doing some community service, sharing whatever talent you have … they didn’t have to show up and look a certain way.”

In recent years, bringing diversity to the profession, one historically dominated by white males, has become one of her priorities. She noted that, while there are more non-whites, and many more women, in architecture schools than when she was at Carnegie Mellon, they are not becoming licensed architects at the same rates.

“Diversity is important to me, not only as a woman, but as the mother of a biracial child,” she explained. “I recognize that this profession is lacking diversity, and I believe that architecture is better when all the voices are represented in the design process.”

To create a more diverse mix of voices, Kuhn Riddle now funds a scholarship for UMass Amherst’s Summer Design Academy for high-school students, specifically targeting women and people of color.

“If you get kids interested in high school, maybe they’ll go to college,” she explained, adding that several area firms now contribute to that scholarship, one of many steps she believes will eventually change the face of the profession, literally and figuratively.

Progress — by Design

As she talked with BusinessWest about her life and career, Tierney presented a small card, a marketing piece used by the firm.

On one side is a brief history of Kuhn Riddle, a quick summation of its specialties and client base, and even mention of its own headquarters, an open-design studio with no private offices to promote communication and “cross-fertilization of ideas.”

On the other side, in gray, is a map of Amherst, with properties designed by Kuhn Riddle (either new construction or renovations) in yellow.

“That’s a lot of yellow,” said Tierney as she referenced the card, noting projects in every corner of the community.

Indeed, the firm has certainly changed the landscape in Amherst over the past 32 years, enhancing, improving, supporting, and in some cases changing lives through ‘good architecture.’

Tierney has been changing lives herself, going all the way back to her Peace Corps days, as an architect, an activist, and, most of all, a leader. All of that makes her a true Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2022

President, O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun

She’s Engineering Opportunities for Many in a Dynamic Field

Ashley Sullivan
Photo by Leah Martin Photography

When asked about being a leader and role model in her company and in her industry, Ashley Sullivan sums it up simply: “I like to help people, and a lot of people have helped me.”

And she knows the value of helping and encouraging others. During her college days and into her long engineering career at O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun (OTO) — after 20 years with the firm, she was named president at the start of 2020 — she sometimes questioned whether she knew enough, whether she measured up to her responsibilities, and to her peers.

It’s why events like a recent after-work gathering between OTO and Fuss & O’Neill, another civil-engineering firm headquartered in downtown Springfield, are valuable, she said, in that they help young engineers, and especially young women, not only network, but recognize their place in the field.

“I was intimidated to be in a room with a lot of people who had 20-plus years of experience on me. I always thought I had more to learn; I always thought I didn’t have as much experience as I needed,” she recalled. “But if you put me in a room with my peers, I would have been like, ‘oh, I can do this; I want to get them in situations where they see they’re good.”

“The big thing I stressed was, we all have value, and we’re all part of a team, and we need to be rowing the same way.”

Joining a small, newish engineering firm in 2000, Sullivan didn’t network much outside the company, but she sees the value in it now. “I didn’t know my path, and that’s something that’s true with a lot of people. But once they see you out there and you see yourself in that role, it just happens.”

The passion for inspiring younger engineers is what also drives Sullivan to be a mentor, not only by teaching a civil-engineering capstone design course at Western New England University, where she guides graduating students through a mock building project, but by encouraging OTO’s team members to seek any professional-development opportunities that will help them learn and advance, like she did.

“I think we should be mentors. I think it’s very important to give back to the industry,” she said. “We want to hire, and sometimes you hear complaints that there’s nobody great to hire, but is anyone helping them succeed? I think it’s our responsibility to do it.

Ashley Sullivan discusses a project at One Ferry Street in Easthampton
Ashley Sullivan discusses a project at One Ferry Street in Easthampton with OTO field engineer Dustin Humphrey and client Mike Michon.

“If you give people a lot of opportunity and the skills to help them move up, I feel that benefits the company itself,” she added. “The company needs to support the development of those skills.”

And hiring and recruitment are definitely a challenge now, Sullivan said, adding that the firm saw some turnover during the pandemic but has hired seven employees since January. “We’ve been able to navigate it so far. That’s why I also think it’s important to be a mentor and reach out to students and to have the kind of culture that appeals to them.”

Sullivan has certainly navigated some transitions over the past few years, from taking the reins at OTO to almost immediately having to steer it through a pandemic. For successfully leading in what is still a male-dominated field, and for being a mentor, role model, and inspiration to the next generation of civil engineers, Sullivan is certainly a Woman of Impact.

Ninth Time’s the Charm

Engineering runs in Sullivan’s family — sort of. She said her grandmother always had a lot of respect for engineers, and her father is one of eight siblings who tried engineering but didn’t stick with it. “My grandmother really wanted one, so I said I’ll try it.”

The truth is, Sullivan had already cultivated an interest in chemistry in high school and was considering studying environmental engineering at UMass Amherst — a place where, again, her insecurity nagged at her.

“I want to set us up to the next transition, and that means giving people the skills to manage and lead — not just engineering skills, but all those other things that have to happen. Communication is a big thing we work on, and so is trust.”

“I did very well in high school, but I was nervous about going to a challenging school, or a school where there were others who would do really well too. That plays into why I like to give people confidence and why I do what I do. On the outside, I did well and came across like I had a lot of confidence. But inside, I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea.’”

She had a positive experience at UMass, though she shifted gears toward civil engineering, “mainly because I found that chemical engineering students ended up in a dark lab, and civil engineering students were outside in the quad, and that just looked a lot more enjoyable to me.”

When she graduated in 1998, a lot of the jobs being offered at the time were at the Big Dig in Boston, and she wasn’t interested in heavy construction, so she stayed in graduate school, where she gained the experience she would put to use at OTO two years later.

“I was working for a Mass Highway project where we were installing wells, doing groundwater sampling, modeling groundwater flow, looking at contamination, and two years later I had my master’s in environmental engineering,” she said. “I interviewed at OTO because they were local, in Springfield, and halfway through the interview with Jim Okun and Mike Talbot, I thought I’d like to work there. It was a small firm, everybody seemed very nice, and it seemed to suit my personality.”

OTO’s services over the years have included testing commercial properties for hazardous materials and overseeing cleanup, asbestos management in schools and offices, brownfield redevelopment, indoor air-quality assessments, and geotechnical engineering, a broad term encompassing everything from helping developers assess how much force and weight the ground under a proposed structure can stand to determining the strength of a building’s foundation and surrounding topography.

“I enjoyed working for a small company, working directly with the principals,” Sullivan said, the third being Kevin O’Reilly. “I learned a lot. I also enjoyed working in my own community. It’s been fun over the years driving around the neighborhoods, whether I go to Baystate for a doctor’s appointment or a library, or take my kids to a park, and see projects that I worked on. Rather than working on a high-profile job in another city, I really liked that the jobs were near where I work.”

The other positive experience — one that would later color the kind of president she would be —was being allowed a flexible schedule when she started a family in 2005.

“That was not industry-wide; it’s just not something that was offered,” she explained. “I went down to 24 hours with my first daughter, and I stayed there until they were both in school, then went to 32 hours. But I was still allowed to progress in management.”

That was the key, she said — being able to have work-life balance without sacrificing future opportunities.

“It’s a two-way street. I got some flexibility, but there was accountability and good communication, and I would try to be available when I absolutely needed to; my kids went to some job sites. That was something you couldn’t easily find at other engineering firms. And I also kept progressing; I was allowed to manage projects and manage staff that way. So that kept me going here, to the point where we transitioned.”

Ashley Sullivan performs a phase-1 dam inspection.
Ashley Sullivan performs a phase-1 dam inspection.

In fact, when the three founders started talking about the next generation of leadership, they discussed selling OTO to an outsider, but they preferred an internal transition, and felt they had the right individual in Sullivan.

“We had a good business, we had a good foundation, and I just said, ‘I want to be part of it … I like what I do, I like the people I work with, we have a good company, let’s just try to make this work.’”

Sullivan has taken lessons from her own experience and saw how offering flexibility in different ways to employees could benefit both them and the company, although COVID, admittedly, helped that process along. “I wanted to make sure people, whether managers or other individuals, had the skills and knew the expectations to make that kind of work more widespread.”

She has led her team, she noted, according to the company’s core values, three of which are transparency, respect, and togetherness.

“The big thing I stressed was, we all have value, and we’re all part of a team, and we need to be rowing the same way,” she told BusinessWest. “That was really important, and it was something I learned here but I saw fall away a little bit when we were going through the transition, because when times get hard, it becomes very individual: ‘what does this mean for me? Is this going to be good or bad? I’ve got to fight for my own.’ We needed to come back together.”

So she conducted sessions where she asked employees what kind of culture they want and what keeps them at OTO. “I asked, ‘what are some of the great things we can build upon? What can we do better?’ I think that was important. I like to hear what others want, and then see if I can help make that happen. So, really, one of the big things I wanted to do was to hear from more voices.

“And there was a good foundation,” she added. “My experience here was something I thought I could build upon and then bring to the next level.”

Reaching New Heights

The mission statement posted in the conference room attests that “we will elevate our industry to create and deliver the best solutions for natural and built environments.”

And to elevate an industry, Sullivan believes she must first elevate her people. “I want to set us up to the next transition, and that means giving people the skills to manage and lead — not just engineering skills, but all those other things that have to happen. Communication is a big thing we work on, and so is trust.”

When she talks to young people about a career in civil engineering, she’s quick to explain how much variety and opportunity they will encounter. “You can go into transportation or structural or geotech or environmental. You can do public work at the state or municipal level, or even the federal level. You can work in private consulting or go into technical sales. You can go into a testing lab. You can work for a contractor. That allows for some flexibility because you don’t always know when you’re right out of school and you have to make all these decisions.”

At the same time, “going into a field like civil engineering, you’re going to be needed forever. We do important projects for people. It’s important for people to have that job security and know there are so many different things you can do with that.”

The message is rersonating, especially with young women. A few weeks ago, Sullivan attended a geotechnical conference in Connecticut and was “blown away” by the number of women she saw, compared to, say, five years ago. And on a heavy construction site on Boston Road recently, she walked the grounds alongside a female field engineer and a female quality-control engineer, all from different firms.

“That was something that I hadn’t seen, to see three women working together on a project with a big rig installing ground improvement. It was really neat. Sometimes I think, ‘wow, this is happening.’

It’s happening because of the impact of women like Sullivan, who knows the value of being helped and inspired, and wants to do the same for others.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2022

Executive Director, Nuestras Raíces

This Leader Helps Others Achieve a Sense of Belonging

Hilda Roqué

Hilda Roqué was 14 when she and other members of her family arrived in Holyoke from her native Puerto Rico.

It was February, she recalled, noting that the extreme climate change from the tropical Caribbean provided a constant reminder that she was a long — as in long — way from home.

And, unfortunately, weather was far from the only such painful reminder. Language was a considerable barrier, she said, and there were myriad cultural differences as well. Overall, she did not feel included.

“I had no sense of belonging when I came here; when you come from a different country, it’s always difficult, especially when you’re trying to find your own identity,” she told BusinessWest, adding quickly that she worked hard to overcome what would be considered stern challenges to lead the Spanish newspaper at Holyoke High School and become the first recipient of its Latino Leadership honor, a poignant sign of what was come.

Indeed, fast-forwarding to today — we’ll go back and fill in some gaps later — Roqué has become a leader in this community on many levels.

She is the executive director of Nuestras Raíces, a Holyoke-based nonprofit with a broad mission that involves connecting people with the land through agriculture programs, empowering communities, and advocating for food justice.

While doing all that through a process of growth, evolution, and essentially breaking agriculture into two words — agri and culture — the team at Nuestras Raíces, and especially Roqué, have made it part of the mission to make sure that current and future generations of people coming to Holyoke from Puerto Rico and elsewhere don’t have to feel as far away from home as she did all those years ago.

“I had no sense of belonging when I came here; when you come from a different country, it’s always difficult, especially when you’re trying to find your own identity.”

Indeed, they strive to make them feel at home in as many ways as they can.

“It was always my dream to make it easier to transition,” she said. “I went through a lot of bullying and a lot of racism … there were so many barriers, including language, that I didn’t want people to feel like I felt when I came here.

“That’s why I fought so much, and why I’m still fighting, for that to happen,” she went on. “Equality — that’s something that this organization stands for. We are all worthy of eating healthy, we should all be eating healthy, there shouldn’t be so much discrimination when it comes to food; we all have the same rights. This is something that is also my passion; we should live in better places, and we should aim for the stars like everyone else.”

Roqué, who first came to Nuestras Raíces as a volunteer more than 30 years ago and took on several different roles before being named executive director in 2011, is a Woman of Impact for many reasons, starting with what she has done with this nonprofit.

Working with others, she has taken the mission in many different directions, from incubating new businesses to providing an education in financial literacy, to taking an annual harvest festival to new heights as a tradition and celebration of many different cultures.

Nuestras Raíces
Nuestras Raíces translates as ‘our roots,’ and the agency, led by Hilda Roqué, connects people with their roots in many different ways.

“People from Puerto Rico thought they were in Puerto Rico; people from Colombia thought they were in Colombia; people from the Dominican Republic thought they were in the Dominican Republic,” she said of that event. “That’s what we celebrate when we separate the word ‘agriculture’ — because it is a great part of what this organization wants to pass on to the next generation, not only safe and sustainable practices in agriculture, but also the love for their culture.”

For Roqué, this is not a job, but a passion, and she sees the agency’s programs as a powerful force for change and empowerment within the community.

“It’s very rewarding when you see that we’re trying to help the environment, that we’re providing socioeconomic opportunities for people in this community so they can live a dignified life, when we can actually have people in the community graduate from our programs and they become business owners,” she said, adding that, while she has seen a great deal of progress made, there is still much work to be done.

But she is also being honored for her mentoring of young people and especially girls, her commitment to improving quality of life for those she touches, and for her various efforts to make all those in Holyoke, but especially those who come from other countries, as she did, feel included, not excluded.

All this clearly explains why she is a Woman of Impact.

Food for Thought

Nuestras Raíces translates neatly into ‘Our Roots.’

It’s a fitting name, and a play on words, obviously. Those two short words hit on both sides of the organization’s mission succinctly and effectively. The agency encourages people to put roots in the ground, both literally and figuratively, while connecting them with their roots.

The agency was born in 1992 by a group of community members in South Holyoke who had the goal, the dream, of developing a greenhouse in downtown Holyoke. The founding members were migrating farmers from Puerto Rico with a strong agricultural background who found themselves in a city with no opportunities to practice what they knew.

“I love teaching kids that there’s a future and that the future holds something good if you actually grasp opportunities and grow as a community.”

Eventually, these community leaders located an abandoned lot in South Holyoke, one full of trash, needles, and criminal activity, and came together to clean the lot, which would become the first community garden, sparking the growth of urban agriculture in Holyoke under the umbrella of Nuestras Raíces.

Today, the agency coordinates and maintains a network of 14 community gardens, including the gardens of the Holyoke Educational System and community partners, and also operates a 30-acre farm, called La Finca, that focuses on urban agriculture, economic development, and creating change in food systems.

Those gardens, and the farm, grow a wide range of crops native to Puerto to Rico, from several different types of peppers to lettuce; from garlic to peas. These are just some of the items made available at a mobile farmers market — a refurbished school bus — created as a grassroots response to address health issues and food access by providing access to produce grown at local farms in neighborhoods across the city, many of which would be considered food deserts.

“To see the foods that we used to grow in our backyards in Puerto Rico be actually grown here … there are no words to really explain the feeling that you get when you get reconnected to your roots,” Roqué told BusinessWest. “And that’s why I feel so passionate and I love this organization so much.”

She joined it as an office manager and developed into a program developer and program manager, and eventually worked her way up to executive director. It’s a broad role with a number of responsibilities, both within the offices on Main Street and across the community, that she summed up this way:

“I don’t sit behind my desk — I go out there,” she said. “I hear; I listen to people. Nuestras Raíces provides programming that is a response to the needs that we hear from constituents. We ask and respond in ways that reflect our mission, which is to connect the agriculture and the socioeconomics and the food-justice piece of it and tie it together in ways that bring opportunities to this community.”

Indeed, over the years, the mission at Nuestras Raíces has been broadened into the realms of education and economic development.

For example, the agency has created what it calls the Holyoke Food and Agriculture Innovation Center (HFAIC), which serves as a food hub for Holyoke in the form of a center of food production, innovation, and education. The agency boasts two industrial kitchens and leases those spaces to community food entrepreneurs.

It also hosts a seven-week educational program focused on providing financial and business-management assistance to community entrepreneurs based in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, and other area communities. It offers bilingual lessons covering a wide range of topics including business and property insurance, permitting, bookkeeping, investing, marketing, business planning, and many others.

Beyond these offerings, Roqué and her team strive to help others understand the opportunities and open doors that are available to them through hard work, education, and perseverance.

“I love teaching kids that there’s a future and that the future holds something good if you actually grasp opportunities and grow as a community,” she explained. “If you hold each other’s hand — and that’s what we do here with our businesses and our program participants; we hold their hand — you can help them navigate their way and feel included.”

As the leader of Nuestras Raíces, as a leader in the community, and as a mentor to young people, Roqué says she tries to “teach by example,” as she put it, especially when it comes to treating all people with the respect and dignity they deserve.

“I don’t do unto others as was done unto me,” she said. “I see everyone, and when I see them, I don’t see color or race — I see people as human beings, and I try to instill that in the younger generations; I tell them to pass on the love, not the hate, and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

“I try to be an example to others, especially women, who feel that maybe they didn’t have value or are not being heard,” she went on. “That’s what I’m trying to do with my voice; I’m trying to be someone in this community who is respectable and who respects, and who likes to be heard.”

When asked to assess what has changed and improved since she arrived and the work still to be done, Roqué said there has been considerable progress, and she points to City Hall as just one example. There, Joshua Garcia, the city’s first Puerto Rican mayor, sits in the corner office.

“For a lot of years, Holyoke did not reflect the community that lives here,” she said. “Things have been getting progressively better, but there is still a lot more to do when it comes to navigating through systemic challenges. There’s still work to be done and a lot of effort needed to come together as one community.”

Bottom Line

Roqué will certainly be putting in that effort.

As she has said, and others have said of her, the work she does at Nuestras Raíces is not really work. It is, indeed a passion.

Specifically, a passion to serve, to educate, to inspire, to create opportunities, and to change lives. She does all of that, and that’s why she’s always been a leader and a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2022

President, J.L. Raymaakers & Sons Inc.

She’s Spent a Lifetime Paving the Way for Others

Laurie Raymaakers
Photo by Leah Martin Photography

The company was called SealMaster.

That name was chosen because it specialized in seal-coating driveways and crack filling, said Laurie Raymaakers, who started it with her husband, John, after work they were doing in property management dried up amid the banking crisis and deep recession of the late ’80s and they needed to find something — anything — to generate revenue and help provide for a growing family.

She joked — only it wasn’t really a joke — that they should have called it ‘We Can Do That,’ because while they seal-coated a lot of driveways across Western Mass., they quickly picked up other skills and took on other assignments related to driveways, landscaping, and small-scale construction.

In many ways, ‘we can do that’ describes not only the company the Raymaakers partners created, but the mindset that has driven them, and especially Laurie, over the past 40 years or so. It sums up her approach to business and life itself — always learning, always evolving, always doing whatever it takes to make ends meet, first and foremost, but also create opportunities and grow a company.

“That was the attitude that I had, that John had, and we’ve instilled it in everyone around us,” she explained. “It’s ‘I can do that’ — you can always learn, you can research, you can read … you can evolve and adjust and do what it takes.”

And she has. Over the course of those four decades, she’s worked two and sometimes three jobs at a time — everything from shifts as a police dispatcher to plowing snow to working at the local Boys & Girls Club — to help support the family and enable their Westfield-based business, now known as J.L. Raymaakers & Sons Inc., to gain a foothold and eventually thrive.

This is a story of perseverance, determination, imagination, and, well … ‘we can do that.’

Laurie Raymaakers and her husband, John
Laurie Raymaakers and her husband, John, have persevered through a number of challenges to lead their company to continued growth.

Laurie Raymaakers is a Woman of Impact for many reasons, but especially the manner in which she has become a role model and mentor to others, especially women in the construction trades and other male-dominated sectors.

She can remember the early days, showing up with her sister-in-law to seal-coat driveways and finding homeowners, men and women, being indifferent about women showing up to do the work. In more recent years, she can remember being the only woman in construction-management meetings and having the others look at her as if she was there to take minutes or pour coffee. Through the course of her career, she’s been asked more times than she could remember if she worked for her husband, not with him in a leadership role.

One can only overcome such actions and sentiments by proving they are good at what they do, exhibiting large amounts of confidence, and believing in themselves, she said.

And she has always been that person.

Today, the company she leads as president is handling projects with budgets in the millions of dollars. It specializes in excavation and site work, water- and sewer-line installation, snow removal, and more.

Meanwhile, she has been involved in her community in quiet ways, be it lifelong support of the Boys & Girls Club or encouraging those in local trade schools, especially Westfield Technical Academy, that there are real opportunities in the trades, and that they should not be overlooked as one considers career options.

All along the way, Raymaakers has been convincing others that there is nothing beyond their reach if they are willing to work hard for it, make the needed sacrifices, and, as Bill Belichick might put it — ‘do your job.’

She knows, because she’s been there and done that. The sum of her life and work, as well as that ‘we can do that’ attitude and her ability to instill it in others, explains why she is a Woman of Impact.

Sealing the Deal

As she talked about the early days of SealMaster, Raymaakers got up from her desk and retrieved a photo. Actually, it was one of those wooden frames, partitioned off to hold several different photos of various sizes and shapes.

Some of the larger images were of a huge house in Longmeadow, the owner of which commissioned the biggest project the company had taken on to that time, a long, curving driveway. But there were other shots of her moving five-gallon buckets of sealer into position.

“That was the attitude that I had, that John had, and we’ve instilled it in everyone around us. It’s ‘I can do that’ — you can always learn, you can research, you can read … you can evolve and adjust and do what it takes.”

Raymaakers has kept those photos all these years because they serve to remind her of where and how things started — and of how far she and John, and now their two sons, have come since. It’s an inspiring story in many ways, and it serves as a reminder — not that anyone who has ever started and grown a business needs one — that nothing about having your name over the door (literally or figuratively) is easy, and that success only comes to those who have what it takes to ride out the hard days and find ways to create better days.

Our story really begins with Raymaakers, soon after relocating to Westfield from Hardwick when she was 24, taking a job with the Westfield Boys & Girls Club in the early ’80s.

“I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference somehow,” she recalled, adding that she started working at the club part-time, and later, after some grant funding was secured for the facility, was assigned to be program director at a satellite office in a large apartment complex called Powdermill Village.

“It was a great experience … I met some wonderful kids that have turned into great adults,” she told BusinessWest. “And what we did was needed. The kids that lived there needed a place to go after school to empower them, tell them they could make a difference, and just let them be themselves. It was a really good program, and I was there for six years.”

Looking back, she said her work went beyond the day-to-day programming and into the realm of mentoring and helping those young people overcome a difficult childhood.

“I can remember saying to them, ‘you can do it, you can do it — you can do anything you want to do,’” she recalled, adding that she stayed in touch with many of them, standing up for one at her wedding and becoming a godmother to one of her children.

Laurie Raymaakers has become a role model
Laurie Raymaakers has become a role model to others, especially women in the construction trades and other male-dominated sectors.

Her time at Powdermill was life-changing in many other respects. It was there she met John Raymaakers, who worked in maintenance at the facility, and “fell in love, got married, and all that goofy stuff.”

‘Goofy stuff,’ in this case, is decades of working together to forge some dreams and make them come true.

After a brief and unfulfilling time in Oklahoma, where John took a job, they returned to Westfield and started working for a property-management company, handling apartment complexes in several area communities, and later opened their own company. As noted earlier, with the sharp downturn in the economy, their portfolio diminished in dramatic fashion.

“We lost 70% of our business in six months,” she said, adding that they soon began looking for something else to do, settled on sealing driveways, and started SealMaster with some grit and an old Chevy pickup.

“I had to put a quart of oil in it every day to drive it down the road,” she said with a hearty laugh, noting that, while there were many tough times, especially when John was severely burned while on a job and out of action for a lengthy period of recovery, the company persevered.

She remembers preparing for the annual home show and sitting at the kitchen table with her children folding marketing pieces that she would load into the family station wagon and put in newspaper boxes across the region.

But John’s accident came at a time when the couple had allowed their health insurance to expire. It was a scary time, and one that convinced her that she needed to take a job that offered health insurance.

“This was a case of ‘when one door closes, another opens,’” she said, adding that the former director of the Westfield Boys & Girls Club, whom she worked with and for, had taken the same position in Springfield, and he hired her to manage three satellite offices — and provide more mentoring and counseling to young people.

“These were rough neighborhoods; there were a lot of gangs,” she recalled. “And I tried to convince them that they didn’t have to do it this way, with the street life, the gangs — I said, ‘you have opportunities out there. You don’t have to be a follower; you can be a leader.’”

She worked at the club from 2 to 10, which gave her the opportunity to work at SealMaster before that, she said, adding that, over the years, she would work several different jobs to help make ends meet.

In 1998, she and John started J.L. Raymaakers, specializing in paving and site work, crack-filling at places like the Holyoke Mall, snowplowing, and more, a venture that has grown over the years to now boast 41 employees. The ‘& Sons’ part of the title came later, as sons John and Joshua, who first started helping out when they were 12, officially joined the company.

While the company has enjoyed steady growth over the years, success has not come easily, and Raymaakers remembers many years when she — and John — would work at least two jobs.

“I worked at the Westfield Police Department for five years, 4 to midnight, as a police dispatcher,” she recalled. “It was exhausting; I’d get up at 6 in the morning and get the kids off to school, and then I’d do company work, and then I’d have to go to work again.

“At night, the boys used to plow,” she went on. “And then they’d come to the police station at night and switch vehicles with me; I would go out and plow all night, and they’d take my car home.”

When asked what she does day in and day out at J.L. Raymaakers, she laughed, as if to indicate that there is little she doesn’t do. The list includes project management, estimating, marketing, and many other assignments.

Summing up what it’s been like for her — and for all business owners, for that matter — she put things in perspective in poignant fashion.

“It’s been a challenge … it’s been a struggle … it’s been rewarding … it’s been frightening,” she said. “But there’s nothing else I’d rather do. Growth doesn’t come easy — it comes at a cost; you have to be willing to pay that cost.”

Concrete Example

Raymaakers recalls a time she visited a job site about eight years ago, with the intention of getting her hands dirty — literally.

“I went to pick up a wheelbarrow of asphalt to patch, just ’cause I wanted to, and I couldn’t pick it up,” she said with exasperation in her voice all these years later. “I was so ticked off … I’m like, ‘I’m out of shape!’”

It was one of the few times over the past four decades when she couldn’t say ‘I can do that.’

Because she was able to say it all those other times, she’s been not only a force in the workplace — whatever that might be — but a force in the lives of those around her, a true Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2022

Amherst Town Councilor; President, Ancestral Bridges

By Connecting Past with Present, She’s Changing the Narrative of Amherst’s History

Anika Lopes
Photo by Leah Martin Photography

While showing off her extensive collection of hat blocks in her Amherst home, Anika Lopes explained how they tell a story of her time in New York City, but, more importantly, of generations before her.

“Hats really are a universal connector. You’d be hard-pressed to find any culture in the world that doesn’t have traditions with some sort of headwear, whether that’s a feather, bones, a traditional hat, or just something to keep people warm. It’s a space of universal connection.”

Lopes has dedicated much of her life to making connections, particularly involving the long, often-undertold history of Black and Indigenous communities in and around Amherst. It’s work she took up in earnest after returning to her hometown in 2019.

But let’s start with the hats.

As an artist and sculptor who graduated from the New School University, she found herself interning with Horace Weeks, one of the first Black men to own a hat factory, Peter & Irving, in the Garment District of New York City. “Millinery chose me,” she said, using the proper name for hat design. “I was fascinated by Mr. Weeks, and walking into that space felt like walking back in time. I had always had a passion for sculpting, and hand-blocking hats was very much like sculpting.”

Lopes and an ex-partner eventually took over the factory and revamped it, and she found overnight attention when the R&B artist Usher commissioned a hat from her in 2005 and wore it on a popular MTV show. “Pretty much overnight, that hat was on billboards in Times Square, and I had buyers from all over the world calling in,” Lopes said. “I thought, now what do I do? And I looked at it for the opportunity it was.”

As her profile grew, she made commissioned designer hats for Madonna, Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, numerous films and celebrities, and exclusive boutiques in New York and Japan, including Isetan in Tokyo and Bergdorf Goodman.

“It was a whirlwind experience being in the fashion industry, but I got to the point where my passion for connecting people and wanting to help people, which has always been something in me, made me feel like I needed more,” she recalled. “I was able to reach out and work with different internship programs and different corporations where I was able to merge the business of fashion with having an impact on marginalized communities, with disadvantaged youth, and also with adults coming into second-chance programs dealing with harm reduction.”

When she returned to Amherst three years ago, Lopes began directing that passion for connecting people to a different purpose: to uncover and bring to light the Black and Indigenous history of generations of Amherst residents, including some who played a direct role in the events that were eventually commemorated as Juneteenth.

The Ancestral Bridges exhibit of historical photographs and artifacts
The Ancestral Bridges exhibit of historical photographs and artifacts will be on view at the Amherst History Museum for two more Saturdays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Through efforts to “daylight” some of that long-neglected history — through historical events, museum exhibits, her role on the Amherst Town Council, and especially a foundation she calls Ancestral Bridges — Lopes is connecting past with present and providing not just a clearer sense of history, but new opportunities for young BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) individuals today.

“I have to pinch myself,” she told BusinessWest. “There have been few times in my life where I’ve been so excited about something and feel such a connection. Ancestral Bridges is part of my life’s work, part of my purpose.”

Deep Roots

Growing up in Amherst, Lopes said, she was close to her family — parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents — and when she returned, she found herself revisiting spaces and connecting with the past. She looked up to her grandfather, Dudley Bridges, who had launched an initiative in the late 1990s to restore and publicly display Civil War tablets that told the story of Indigenous and Black soldiers.

Due to the efforts of Dudley and his family, important aspects of Amherst’s history were brought to light, she explained. As a board member of the Amherst Historical Society, he worked to obtain National Historic Register status for Amherst’s Westside District of Snell Street, Hazel Avenue, and Baker Street — one of several neighborhoods in Amherst with significant cultural history for BIPOC people.

But, while he funded the restoration of the tablets, they remained in storage when he passed away in 2004. So Lopes took up her grandfather’s mission to bring them into the light.

“The tablets were given to the town in 1893 by the Grand Army of the Republic to honor more than 300 Union soldiers and sailors from Amherst. Many of the names are familiar ones in Amherst: Dickinson, Cowls, Kellogg,” she explained. “Each man and his family made a difficult choice and great sacrifice to enlist — perhaps none so much as the Black soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry who traveled through and to very hostile territory in 1865 to notify residents of Texas that the Civil War had ended and that the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in the Confederate states.”

“It was a whirlwind experience being in the fashion industry, but I got to the point where my passion for connecting people and wanting to help people, which has always been something in me, made me feel like I needed more.”

Cinda Jones, the ninth-generation president of W.D. Cowls Inc., was inspired by this work, among other things, in nominating Lopes as a Woman of Impact. “Anika Lopes demanded that her ancestors’ names on the town of Amherst Civil War tablets be on permanent exhibit. That they be seen. That the total history of Amherst be seen for the first time. That Black and Indigenous residents, heretofore invisible, be recognized. She asked for inclusivity.”

She got it; the Civil War tablet exhibit is now on display at the Bangs Community Center. The exhibit debuted on June 19, 2021 and served as the inspiration for the first townwide Juneteenth celebration. For the 2022 Juneteenth event, Lopes curated and led a walk of Black historical sites in Amherst.

“For the first time, hundreds of residents saw and recognized where Black history occurred,” Jones wrote. “Coinciding with the walk was a first-ever Amherst History Museum exhibit curated, owned, and presented by Ancestral Bridges. It is still going. It represents the very first time that Amherst’s Blacks and Indigenous people have ever been represented in the Amherst History Museum. Anika Lopes made this happen.”

Indeed, Lopes founded Ancestral Bridges in June 2022 to bring together stakeholders to elevate economic and cultural opportunities and build a more equitable future for regional BIPOC individuals. According to its mission statement, Ancestral Bridges receives grants of money and land and leverages these to celebrate BIPOC arts and culture, enable first-time home-ownership opportunities, and raise the potential of BIPOC and disadvantaged youth. Some of the activities it supports include telling the stories of local ancestors through interactive history walks, art exhibits, and music events; educating about wealth generation and developing internships, programs, and workshops for BIPOC youth and families; and enabling local BIPOC wealth generation by receiving gifts, grants, and other resources to benefit BIPOC futures.

“Ancestral Bridges serves as the bridge between past and present, between elder and youth, between diverse populations, connecting all who seek to learn and grow through meaningful engagements that educate, empower, and nurture long-lasting growth,” Lopes added.

The Ancestral Bridges exhibit of historical photographs and artifacts at the Amherst History Museum features Black and Indigenous families who lived in Amherst for centuries, were integral to the fabric and character of Amherst and surrounding towns, served in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment and 5th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War, built and founded the first black churches in Amherst, facilitated the smooth functioning of commerce and institutional education, and provided living quarters for those otherwise denied, including newly arrived Black people from the South.

Anika Lopes’ mother, Debora Bridges
Anika Lopes’ mother, Debora Bridges (third from right), gives a narrative tour of the Civil War tablet exhibit as a highlight of her 50th Amherst High School reunion.

But that wasn’t the extent of Lopes’ daylighting efforts. “When I came on the Council, one of the first things I noticed was the list of proclamations for celebratory days. Both Indigenous Peoples Day and Native American History Month weren’t on the list. That really floored me, because just about everyone else was there.”

Proclamations, tablets, museum displays, and history walks won’t by themselves reverse the centuries-long trend of downplaying BIPOC contributions in Amherst, but each effort is another positive step — and Lopes is by no means done.

Telling a New Story

The fact that Amherst itself is named after a British military officer who supported the extermination of Native Americans is not lost on Lopes. Rather, it’s perhaps the most glaring example of those whose stories have been allowed to be told and celebrated over the centuries. On display at the museum exhibit, in fact, is a full set of Amherst College china designed by the college’s president in the 1940s, depicting Lord Jeffrey Amherst massacring Indigenous people. Meals were served on that china to Amherst College professors, staff, and students between 1940 and 1970.

That’s not that long ago, so these wounds are still fresh.

“You’re talking about two cultures [Black and Indigenous] that are connected by a certain type of trauma and displacement and erasure,” Lopes said. “In a lot of places, you can’t see and document this history, but we can.”

Which is why she brings to light stories like Christopher and Charles Thompson, direct ancestors of Lopes who were among the black soldiers to arrive in Texas in 1865 to christen the now-federal holiday of Juneteenth. “These Amherst men — the Thompsons, Josiah Hasbrook, James Finnemore — may not yet have streets named after them, but should be remembered for enlisting to advance the belief that all men are created equal,” she noted.

So as she serves on Amherst’s Town Council, where she chairs the town services and outreach committee and sits on the governance, organization, and legislation committee; serves as a board member of Family Outreach of Amherst, assuring that Amherst’s most vulnerable families are safe; and works as a member of the Jones Library building committee, among other efforts, Lopes is putting time and energy into improving her hometown.

But just as importantly, she’s inspiring others to appreciate the town’s history and, more importantly, draw on it.

“We’re able to bring something forward for youth in Amherst who maybe have never heard about the Black history of Amherst, did not know that we had soldiers right here who fought for their freedom, people who were participating in banking before there were banks here, who brought business here … these are all stories that are inspiring for youth to know about,” she said. “They can say, ‘this what my ancestors did; these are the shoulders I stand on — what can I do? I’m empowered. I am going to be able to take this world so much further than they did’ — and really realize that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2022

Director, Rachel’s Table

She’s Choreographed a Broader, More Holistic Mission at This Critical Nonprofit

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Jodi Falk knows what it’s like to be like food-insecure.

For a brief time, she received assistance from the program known as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). It’s not something she can easily talk about — and, in fact, it was something she couldn’t talk about until very recently, mostly because of the stigma attached to being in the program.

She recalled that time for BusinessWest, however, because, by doing so, she believes she’s helping to address that stigma, while also putting into perspective the feelings of those that she and the organization she leads, Rachel’s Table, serve day in and day out.

“Those were the days when it wasn’t a card you can give to a cashier or put in a machine, but checks to hand to a person who made sure that what you purchased was on their list — and this could take a while, which was embarrassing,” she recalled. “I used to look around the store to see if I knew anyone, and if I did, I would wait until I was sure they had left the store before going to the register.”

Elaborating, she said she is still embarrassed to talk about those experiences, but admits that they made her aware, and understanding, of what others may be going through when they are on government assistance. And she believes her story has given her some perspective that each individual needs to be treated with “dignity and care.”

In short, those experiences have helped in her role as director of Rachel’s Table, a program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, and they are not the only chapter from her past that she says has earned that distinction.

Indeed, Falk spent many years professionally as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, both here and abroad. And while her work administering Rachel’s Table might seem worlds removed from those vocations, the skill sets, and her many experiences in those roles, dovetail nicely with her current assignment. In many ways, they inspired it.

“For several of those years, besides working in the professional arts world, I also taught and choreographed in the community dance and arts world, where I worked with various populations, such as young teen moms or young women who were incarcerated and in treatment centers, elders in nursing homes, people in recovery, families in foster-care communities, and more,” she explained.

“I focused on art making as a means of making voices heard and bodies seen that aren’t always heard and seen. I became more interested in the lives of those with whom I was dancing, in their nourishment, and when Rachel’s Table had an opening for a director, I felt that I could serve more people with nourishment from a literal as well as figurative perspective.”

“We live in a world where we sometimes we don’t see the ‘other,’ if you will. How do we learn to live to live together in a much bigger society, a much broader world? We don’t know each other’s story until we really know each other’s story.”

With that, she referenced not only why she took on this new career challenge, but how dance and choreography have made her a better administrator and problem solver. And, in some ways, they help explain why she is a Woman of Impact.

To gain more perspective on why Falk has earned this honor, we need to look at all that she has accomplished since taking the helm at Rachel’s Table in 2019. In short, she has taken the agency “to a new level of food rescue for our very needy community,” said Judy Yaffe, vice president of the advisory board for Rachel’s Table, in nominating Falk as a Woman of Impact.

And she has done this through many new initiatives, including:

• A broadening of the agency’s reach; in the past, it has served only Hampden County, but has expanded into Hampshire and Franklin counties;

• A new program called Growing Gardens, an offshoot of the agency’s gleaning program, whereby constituents focus on growing and harvesting their own food;

• A new partnership with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to pick up food from Big Y stores and other large donors;

• A new, fully refrigerated van that will enable the agency to deliver larger quantities of food throughout the year;

• Steps that have enabled Rachel’s Table to rescue 50% more healthy produce, meat, milk, and prepared foods for the more than 50 agencies it serves;

• Upgrades to the volunteer-management program; and

• A significant increase in the number of grants received by the agency, and in the amounts of those grants, as well as a surge in the number of donors to the program.

In short, Falk has been instrumental in essentially expanding the mission and taking it in new directions, while also modernizing the agency, making it more efficient, and, yes, guiding it through a pandemic that brought challenges that could not have been imagined.

As we examine all this in greater detail, it will become abundantly clear why she’s been named a Woman of Impact for 2022.

Growing Passion

As noted earlier, Falk brings a diverse résumé to the table.

She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown and master of fine arts and Ph.D. degrees from Temple University, and she has put them to work in several different capacities.

Most recently, she served as founding director of the dance program at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley, where she created nationally recognized dance programs for more than 400 students, produced more than 15 original and critically acclaimed concerts, and oversaw a national touring company. Prior to that, she was program director of the Trinity Lasban Conseratoire of Music and Dance in London. There, she directed and developed a program in choreography and community-engaged arts-education outreach for the institution, among a host of other duties.

Earlier, Falk served as chair of SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Councils for the Greenfield Public School District and Franklin County Region), a family-advocacy organization that provides resources, support, and advice on policy for families of children with special needs. Before that, the was coordinator of Community Engagement for the Five College Consortium in Amherst.

As she mentioned, these various assignments, which provided in experience in everything from teaching and mentoring to grant writing and new program creation, helped prepare her for, and in many ways inspire her interest in, the position at Rachel’s Table. It also provided perspective on the need to fully understand the plight and the challenges of others in order to effectively serve them.

“We live in a world where we sometimes we don’t see the ‘other,’ if you will,” she explained. “How do we learn to live to live together in a much bigger society, a much broader world? We don’t know each other’s story until we really know each other’s story.”

As she goes about her work, she doesn’t talk much about her experiences with WIC, for many reasons. Stigma is one of them, but a bigger reason is that she received assistance for only a short time and moved on from her food insecurity. Her story, she said, doesn’t really reflect the true hardships of those in need.

A gleaning program is one of many new initiatives launched by Jodi Falk
A gleaning program is one of many new initiatives launched by Jodi Falk since she took the helm at Rachel’s Table in 2019.

It is those individuals’ stories that should be told, she said, and their needs that should be addressed.

And this is what she’s been doing since she took the helm at Rachel’s Table, an organization now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Over that time, and especially in recent years, it has evolved and become much more of a holistic agency while still “nourishing people with dignity,” as Falk likes to say.

It carries out its broad mission of battling food insecurity and not only distributing food but first rescuing much of it from restaurants, supermarkets, and other venues in a number of ways and through several different initiatives, including:

• A gleaning program, known as Bea’s Harvest, that works with young people and school groups to engage them in the service of collecting excess produce and donating it to agencies that serve the hungry and homeless in Western Mass.;

• Growing Gardens, which provides the Pioneer Valley with direct access to healthy foods by helping local organizations build gardens to grow culturally appropriate food;

• Bountiful Bowls, a gala staged every two years to raise funds for the agency;

• Outrun Hunger, a biennial 5K run/walk and one-mile fun walk that raises funds to “fill the bowls of those in need”;

• A Hunger Awareness Arts Fest, at which issues of local hunger were highlighted by music and dance performances and art exhibits; and

• A Teen Board, which, partially sponsored by a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, aims to alleviate childhood hunger and educate their peers about local hunger and poverty issues, and then involve them in being part of the solution.

While overseeing all of this, Falk guided the agency through the pandemic while also blueprinting the agency’s response to it, a response that included raising more than $95,000 for food in the agency’s Healthy Community Emergency Fund; purchasing and delivering more than 5,000 pounds of meat and potatoes, 3,000 pounds of fluid milk, and much more; participating with a network of partners in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, delivering, at times, more than 140,000 pounds of food a month to families in need; and creating and funding a program to give lunches to first responders in all three counties.

Falk brings to all her work that perspective from being on WIC for a short time, but, far more importantly, decades of experience in leadership, inspiring those she works with to be creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative, and forging the partnerships that are critical to a nonprofit being able to not only carry out its mission, but take it in new and different directions, as Rachel’s Table has.

And she brings even greater emphasis to keeping in mind, always, the ideas, thoughts, and feelings of those most affected by food insecurity.

“This model, which we’ve had for 30 years, helps the planet — food doesn’t go into a landfill; it gets delivered to agencies that support people who are in need,” she explained. “And at the same time, I wanted to make sure that we address, more directly, some of the problems that cause food insecurity.”

She’s done that through initiatives such as the Growing Gardens program, which helps any of those agencies that want to grow their own food in collaboration with those they serve.

“Young kids from Christina’s House are getting their hands dirty in the garden, and they’re making their own salads,” she said, citing the example of the Springfield-based nonprofit that provides services to women and their children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness (and whose leader, Shannon Mumblo, was named a Woman of Impact in 2021).

“To me, that’s a bigger story than how many thousands of pounds of food we can deliver,” Falk said, “because it means there is a dignified approach to food choice, a dignified approach to having a choice about what you want to plant and grow, and we’re helping to teach people — or learn with people, because I think we all teach each other — how to make our own food and not wait for a handout.”

Food for Thought

‘Learning with people.’ That’s something that Falk has been doing throughout her career — and, really, her whole life.

It’s a pattern that has continued at Rachel’s Table, an model that has enabled the agency to expand, evolve, rescue more food, deliver more food, grow food, and, in sum, be much more responsive to agencies serving those in need.

It has enabled Rachel’s Table to do something else as well — to hear those it serves and understand their story and their needs.

That’s what Falk has brought to Rachel’s Table. And her accomplishments, not only there but at other institutions where she has enabled voices to be heard, certainly make her a Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2022

For Nearly a Century, She’s Been Fighting for Good Causes

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Sister Mary Caritas, SP has always remembered something that one of the doctors, a cardiologist, at Mercy Hospital told her while she was doing duty on one of the floors as a nursing student more than 75 years ago now.

“He told me, ‘little nurse … when we’re born, we’re born with a certain amount of energy; at the rate you’re going, you’re going to be dead by 40.’”

Turns out, he was wrong. Big time. And an entire region can be very glad that he was.

Sister Caritas was obviously born with more energy to expend than the rest of us, and she’s still proving that at age 99. She’s spent her whole life proving it, in ways large and small, highly visible or seen by only a few.

Space does not permit us to get into all that Sister Caritas has done during her remarkable life and career, at least in any detail. Hitting the highlights, she has been a hospital administrator — she was president of Mercy Hospital for 16 years, and before that was administrator at St. Luke’s Hospital and associate director of Berkshire Medical Center. She’s also been very active with the Sisters of Providence and its broad mission, serving as president from 1960 to 1977, as vice president from 2009 to 2013 and from 2016 until today, and in other roles as well; she is now the oldest member of that order.

She has also been very active in healthcare, serving on the boards of the Sisters of Providence Health System, Trinity Health Of New England, Catholic Health East, the Massachusetts Hospital Assoc., the American Hospital Assoc., Partners for a Healthier Community, Cancer House of Hope, the New England Conference of the Catholic Health Assoc., and perhaps two dozen other local, state, regional, and national institutions and organizations.

And she’s been active in the community, serving in capacities ranging from corporator of the former Community Savings Bank to trustee of the board of the Massachusetts Easter Seals Society, to chairperson (quite famously, by the way) of the Task Force on Bondi’s Island in the mid-’90s.

But it’s not the lines on the résumé — no matter how many there are, and yes, there are a lot them — that explain why Sister Caritas is a Woman of Impact. It’s what you can read between those lines.

It’s the story of an extraordinary individual driven at a young age to learn, teach, serve the community and especially those who are less fortunate, and simply make this region, and the world, a better place.

She has, in fact, said ‘no’ to a few people who have asked her to take on an assignment because there are only so many hours in the day — she tried to turn down the Bondi’s Island Task Force, for example, but those asking wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. But almost always, she said ‘yes.’

And she became known not merely for serving, but for fighting, doggedly, for what she thought was right and just and needed at the time, whether it was a cancer-treatment facility at Mercy Hospital, fairer Medicare reimbursement rates, or, yes, a solution to the odor problems at Bondi’s Island.

Sister Mary Caritas, seen here when she was president of Mercy Hospital
Sister Mary Caritas, seen here when she was president of Mercy Hospital, has been a leader in the community and an inspiration to generations of area decision makers.

As one might expect with someone who started working professionally in the mid-’40s, talk of her accomplishments obviously involves the past tense. But she remains a Woman of Impact for the way she counsels, mentors, and inspires others, especially women, in leadership roles today. She didn’t officially coin the phrase ‘no margin, no mission,’ but many area nonprofit managers will attribute those words to her as they strive to live by them.

Meanwhile, her life and career has been marked by being thrust into a series of new and daunting challenges, many of which she considered herself quite unprepared for. She’s proven that, with hard work, energy, and a focus on the best outcome for all, one can thrive despite adversity.

“Every role I’ve had, despite the challenges, was the happiest time of my life,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she made the most of every situation and turned them all into invaluable learning experiences. “Every day is a present, and if I haven’t learned something new in a day, then it wasn’t a good day.”

Energy. Yes, Sister Caritas still has large amounts of that commodity. She doesn’t play golf as much as she used to, not because she has slowed down, but because most of those she played with over the years have slowed down. She drives, and she sets a good pace when walking the halls of Providence Place.

She doesn’t have the same level of energy she did 40 years ago or when she was a nursing student, but she’s still very much involved — and clearly a Woman of Impact.

Small Wonder

Those who know Sister Caritas, who came to be known as ‘little sister’ to some because of her small stature, would say it’s not what she does — whether it’s in healthcare, the community, or with the Sisters of Providence — that makes her a true leader, still, at age 99.

Rather, it’s how she goes about … well, whatever it is she is doing. One hears the word ‘determined’ early and quite often when people describe her, and that word fits. So does ‘relentless.’ And ‘unstoppable’ works as well.

Those adjectives certainly apply to her lengthy battle to win approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for a cobalt unit for cancer treatment at Mercy Hospital. She first filed an application in 1978, and it was denied. Applications could only be filed biannually, so she tried again in 1980. And in 1982. And in 1984. And in 1986 … you get the picture.

“There was nothing wrong with the applications, it was just that the Department of Public Health deemed it was not needed,” she said. “But I thought otherwise.”

“He told me, ‘little nurse … when we’re born, we’re born with a certain amount of energy; at the rate you’re going, you’re going to be dead by 40.’”

So she kept on filing applications until finally, in 1993, after she had given notice to the board at Mercy that she would be retiring, the state said ‘yes.’

There are many examples of such determination and perseverance from her lengthy career. Before getting to some, for those who don’t know the Sister Caritas story — and most do — we’ll recap quickly.

Mary Geary was born in Springfield and attended schools in the city. Her parents thought it would be good for her to pursue a career as a secretary, and for a short while, she did, at Commerce High School.

“I was in the secretarial program, learning shorthand and all that … and I was flunking; I hated it every single minute of it,” she recalled, noting that her life changed when she met a girl training to become a nurse at Providence Hospital in Holyoke.

“That absolutely turned my life around,” she told BusinessWest. “I knew … I was so incredibly inspired that I went from Commerce over to Tech [Technical High School], took all my sciences, and eventually went to nursing school.”

Fast-forwarding through the next half-century or so, Geary joined the Sisters of Providence and was sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester as a nurse. But upon making her final vows after her fifth year, in 1949, she was sent to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, a move she was thrilled with until she found out that, instead of nursing, she would focus on dietary services, a decision made by the reverend mother.

After receiving a master’s degree in nutrition education at Tufts University and undertaking a dietetic internship at the Francis Stern Food Clinic at the New England Medical Center in Boston, she was assigned to be administrative dietitian at Providence Hospital in Holyoke, an assignment she enjoyed for seven years.

She then got another call from the Mother House, this one to inform her that she was being named administrator at St. Luke’s Hospital.

When she replied that she didn’t know anything about hospital administration, her superior responded with a simple ‘you’ll learn,’ which she did.

After St. Luke’s and Pittsfield General merged in 1969 to become Berkshire Medical Center, Sister Caritas served briefly as associate director of that facility — briefly because she was chosen to lead the Sisters of Providence and take the title superior general, a title that intimidated her about as much as the long list of responsibilities that came with it.

“I was totally unprepared for this,” she said, adding that, as she did with other stops during her career, she learned by doing.

And that ‘doing’ included work to create a new Mercy Hospital, a facility that would replace a structure built by the Sisters of Providence in 1896; it opened its doors in 1974. Sister Caritas would be named president of the hospital three years later, and would serve in that role until 1993.

Highlights during her tenure, and there were many, include an in-hospital surgery center; an eye center; an intensivist program; one of the nation’s first hospitalist programs; creation of the Weldon Center for Rehabilitation, the Family Life Center, the Healthcare for the Homeless initiative; and much more.

Sister Act

As noted earlier, it’s not the lines on the résumé that explain why Sister Caritas is a Woman of Impact, but the determination she showed when there was a fight to be waged, whether it was for the cobalt unit, to solve the odor problems at Bondi’s Island, or to gain needed adjustment in the Medicaid Area Wage Index.

That last fight was one that took her from Springfield to Washington, D.C. with several stops in between. If there’s an episode from her career that best sums up her persistence — her willingness to fight for something important — it is this one. It’s a story she enjoys telling, and she did so again for BusinessWest.

“The change in the rate meant that Mercy Hospital was going to lose $6 million that year, and $6 million then is like $30 million now,” she said, noting that all the other community hospitals in the area, and there were many more at the time, were looking at similar losses. “So I became very involved because I was so upset with what they were doing.”

That is an understatement.

“Richie Neal was a very young congressman at the time,” she said, noting that he secured a revision in the rate on the House side of the budget. “I thought my friend Mr. Kennedy [U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy] had put it in on the Senate side, it had gone to vote, and it was now in conference.

Sister Mary Caritas says “every day is a present, and if I haven’t learned something new in a day, then it wasn’t a good day.”
Sister Mary Caritas says “every day is a present, and if I haven’t learned something new in a day, then it wasn’t a good day.”

“We learned that it was in conference and that it had not made its way into the budget,” she went on. “So I was panicked; I called all the other hospital administrators and said, ‘we’ve got to go to Washington; I can’t afford to lose $6 million this year — Mercy will go out of business. They all they felt the same way, but none of them wanted to go to Washington, so I went on my own; I went for all of us.”

Here’s where an already revealing story becomes even more so. She first went to see Neal, who told her that a revision was, indeed, included in the House side of the budget. The problem, he said, was in the Senate.

“So I marched across the Capitol to the Senate side, and Kennedy wasn’t there,” she said. “They told me that he may not be back that day, and I told them, ‘you better plan on me staying here all night; I’m not leaving here. I’m a constituent, I have a right to see my senator, and I will not leave this office until I see him.

“They kept trying to placate me, offering me cookies and tea, and I just kept saying, ‘no, I’m not leaving until I see my senator,’” she went on. “I waited, and waited, and waited, until finally, about 4 in the afternoon, he shows up.

“He tells me it’s in conference, and I said, ‘I know; that’s why I’m here,’” she continued, adding an exclamation point through inflection on her voice. “He said, ‘who do you know on the conference committee?’ I poked him on the chest and said, ‘it’s not who I know, it’s who you know.’”

Sensing that the battle might be lost if she had to rely on the senator, Sister Caritas went to work. She went to the nearest pay phone (this is the early ’90s, remember) and instructed her administrative assistant to call the other area community hospital presidents and have them in her office the following morning. Before that, though, she called the Mercy Hospital print shop and had it print 6,000 postcards that would eventually be sent by area constituents to legislators imploring action on the Medicare issue.

While Kennedy would call Sister Caritas after the vote to revise the wage index a few days later, she believes it was those postcards that turned the tide. And those involved would say that it was Sister Caritas herself who really drove that outcome — again, just one of many examples of her fighting spirit.

Century Unlimited

The last page of Sister Caritas’s résumé has the single word ‘Honors’ at the top. And there is a long list that follows, including honorary degrees from several area colleges, a William Pynchon Award, a Paul Harris Fellowship from the Springfield Rotary Club, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts of Pioneer Valley, and a Woman of Achievement Award from the YWCA — a few of them, in fact.

She’s also won several from BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, including Business Person of the Year in 1992, Difference Maker (awarded to the Sisters of Providence) in 2014, and Healthcare Hero (in the Lifetime Achievement category) in 2018.

And because of all that she did earn these honors, she now has one more line to add to that page: Woman of Impact.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact Women of Impact 2022

Program Officer, Mass Humanities

This Writer, Coach, Mentor, Educator, and Motivator is a True Renaissance Woman

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

When asked about her day job, Latoya Bosworth said she actually has quite a few of them.

She’s the program officer for Mass Humanities’ Reading Frederick Douglass Together program. She’s also an adjunct professor at Springfield College’s School of Professional & Continuing Studies. She coaches professionals and especially women. She mentors young people. She’s a writer. She’s a mother and a grandmother. She motivates others to get a mammogram to protect their breast health.

Ok, that last one’s not a day job, but it’s something she takes very seriously, having seen the disease take lives in her family and making a decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy.

Summing up all that and much, much more, Bosworth likes to say that she “helps others transcend limits and transform lives.”

And she does this in many ways, but especially by setting a tone, leading by example, helping individuals discover who they are, and inspiring others to set a higher bar for themselves and then clear that bar.

Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director for Public Services for the Springfield City Library and one of BusinessWest’s first Women of Impact back in 2018, who nominated Bosworth for this award, has come to know her through some of her many initiatives, including an open-mic poetry series for young teen girls at the library. Those experiences made an impression.

“I think of Latoya as a Renaissance woman,” said Canosa Albano, noting that the many accolades, avocations, and interests on Bosworth’s résumé reflect a wide range of interests and expertise. “That phrase also evokes for me that period of history when writing, ideas, discovery, and exploration flourished, centering on humans and humanity.

“Latoya has a tremendous impact on people, especially women and girls in so many ways,” she went on. “Through writing, spoken word, and coaching, she shares her journey. She has motivated many people to get a mammogram to protect their breast health. She has inspired at least five women to go to college, heading to Bay Path University for master’s degrees.”

As she goes about her coaching, mentoring, and even her teaching, Bosworth focuses on an acronym she created: HERS — short for health, empowerment, resilience, and self-worth. These are the qualities she preaches and that she helps others find. Her efforts over the years have earned her a number of honors, from BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty award in 2016 to inclusion in the 2015 100 Women of Color cohort, to the 2014 Eyes of Courage Award for empowering women and girls.

Bosworth spends considerable time and energy helping others, especially younger women and women of color, create and build confidence, with the accent on ‘helping others’ because this is something they ultimately have to do themselves.

“Latoya has a tremendous impact on people, especially women and girls in so many ways.”

“It starts with learning who you are, because you can’t show up and be who you are if you don’t know who you are,” she explained. “And learning how to be authentic — when we show up to our authentic selves, we give people the freedom to do that, and with that freedom comes that confidence.”

When mentoring young women and girls, Bosworth tells them to essentially follow her lead and “pour into themselves.”

“By that, I mean taking time with yourself to figure out who you are, because there are so many outside influences and people telling you what you should be doing, people telling you what it means to be successful, what it means to be beautiful, all of these things,” she explained. “You have to pour into yourself and figure out what’s important to you, what your values are, and how to turn off the noise.”

‘Renaissance woman.’ That’s an apt description of Latoya Bosworth. As we’ll discover, so too is ‘Woman of Impact.’

Impact Statement

“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

That’s the name attached to an iconic Independence Day speech delivered by the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, during which he answers that question by saying ‘…a day that reveals to him, more than all the other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

As program officer for this Mass Humanities initiative, Bosworth schedules public readings of that speech at gatherings of all sizes and many different places.

“And they’re followed by discussions on equity and race and what that speech means today, as an American,” she told BusinessWest. “Sometimes, it’s just children; other times, it’s multi-generational, multi-racial … and it’s all over the state of Massachusetts, so it’s looks different in different communities. Sometimes it’s a small organization; other times, it’s a larger event with hundreds of people at a public square.”

Arranging such readings is just one of many assignments that add up to a very full plate for Bosworth, who also goes by ‘Doc Boz’ to some — a nod to her doctorate in human services she earned at Capella University and the nickname given her grandfather (Bozzie) — and also ‘Brenda’s Child,’ a pen name, if that’s even the right term, she uses to honor her mother, Brenda Kay Swinton, who died from breast cancer at age 23 when Latoya was only 4.

By whatever name she goes by, she keeps her days full. As noted, she’s an adjunct professor at Springfield College, teaching courses ranging from “Race, Culture & Religion” to “Contemporary Issues in Education” to “Communication Skills.”

She also has her own business as a workshop facilitator and ‘speaker/life coach.’ She told BusinessWest that she specializes in “confidence, purpose, and joy,” and facilitates writing and empowerment and educational workshops for women, youth, and youth workers for organizations, schools, and professionals. She also creates and hosts empowerment events under that acronym HERS.

Much of what Bosworth does when coaching is focused on that intangible — and precious commodity — known as confidence. And when asked how she helps individuals, and especially women, find it and build more of it, she said she does this in several ways.

“What I find is that, when people have issues with goal setting or trying to change their lives, a lot of it comes down to some of the things they’ve internalized — from society, from family — that they need to unlearn and reprogram so they can develop that confidence that they need to take the risk,” she explained, “and know that, if they take the risk, it’s going to be OK, no matter what; even if doesn’t work out, there’s going to be something they can learn from and grow from.”

BusinessWest honored Latoya Bosworth as part of the 40 Under Forty class of 2016
Long before her Woman of Impact award, BusinessWest honored Latoya Bosworth as part of the 40 Under Forty class of 2016 for her work with young people.

Elaborating, she said she tries to help individuals and groups understand that trying and failing — if that’s what happens — should always be preferable to simply not trying at all.

“What happens if you fail? What does that look like? What does success look like to you? What does failure look like to you? And if you fail, what will happen? These are the questions I want people to think about,” she said. “Sometimes, we get caught up in these thoughts — I call it worst-case-scenario thinking. I want people to tell me what would happen if they fail, and then I ask them, ‘is that really a big deal, or are you overthinking?’

“Most of the time, people come to find out that it’s not that big a deal if something doesn’t work out the way they want it to,” she went on, adding that this helps in that process of transcending limits and helping people transform their own lives.

Taking Control

Another focal point of Bosworth’s life and work to help others is breast cancer, and here, she tells her own story to inspire others do to what they can to understand this disease and protect their own health.

That story involves tragedy and overcoming adversity on many levels. Her mother, as noted, died from breast cancer. Her father, a veteran, was injured in a training exercise and left paralyzed from the waist down. She and her siblings were raised by her maternal grandmother, who died of ovarian cancer.

These tragedies led to a profound awareness of cancer and its ability to take lives and impact many others while doing so, she said, adding that this awareness led to a proactive approach to caring for her health and encouraging others to follow that lead.

“As I grew up, I learned how to do breast self-exams when I was 12 or 13 — it’s something we pay attention to in our family,” she said, adding that, over the years, she has seen multiple family members, on both sides, die from breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

“So I did some genetic testing; I was negative, but there was some sort of variant there,” she went on, adding that she made the decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2015, and also to have her ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer.

“I share that experience with other people because I want them to know that, while this wasn’t easy, there are options,” she said. “I tell people that they need to understand about genetic testing, and also the health disparities and the fact that African-American women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer because it’s more aggressive in us than it is in other people, even though we are less likely to be diagnosed.”

“What I find is that, when people have issues with goal setting or trying to change their lives, a lot of it comes down to some of the things they’ve internalized — from society, from family — that they need to unlearn and reprogram so they can develop that confidence that they need to take the risk.”

Health is the ‘H’ in HERS. The ‘E,’ ‘R,’ and ‘S’ — empowerment, resilience, and self-worth — are just some of other qualities she helps others discover, and build, through her coaching, mentoring, and a nonprofit youth program she created called Keep Youth Dreaming and Striving Inc.

The mentoring started when she taught in the Springfield Public Schools earlier this decade, and has continued ever since, with Bosworth staying in touch with those she first counseled years ago.

“As a teacher, I was just getting involved in my students’ lives and showing up outside of school for things,” she said. “And as they graduated, I would stay in contact with them, attending baby showers, unfortunately some funerals … but really just showing up for them. And on the side, I started an after-school mentoring program, primarily with girls.”

Keep Youth Dreaming & Striving, which caught the attention of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty judges and made Bosworth part of the class of 2016, featured a number of initiatives, including a Gifted Diva Showcase, what she calls a “self-esteem exhibition” that followed eight weeks of intensive workshops, trainings, and a discovery process.

“It was an anti-beauty pageant, because it wasn’t about looks,” she explained. “It was all about owning who you are, being who you are, doing some community service, sharing whatever talent you have … they didn’t have to show up and look a certain way.”

Leading by Example

Returning to that phrase ‘Renaissance woman,’ in her nomination of Bosworth, Canosa Albano noted that word comes from the French for ‘rebirth.’

“Her journey epitomizes someone who has faced trauma, great loss, and illness, and has reframed those challenges, learned, and grown from them, ‘rebirthing’ herself as Brenda’s Child and Doc Boz.

Reframing challenges and learning and growing from them — this is what Bosworth helps others do as she enables them to transcend limits and transform their lives.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

 

In 2018, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program, one what would recognize the outstanding accomplishments of women across this region and tell stories that might otherwise go untold.

This new program, this new honor, needed a name. After many options were considered, ‘Woman of Impact’ was chosen because, while success in business is certainly a consideration, there are many other ways to make a difference in this community, and we wanted to show that.

Over the first four years of this program, we have done that just, and this pattern continues with the class of 2022 — a very diverse group of eight women who have given back, and changed lives, in many different ways: by taking their business or nonprofit to new levels of success; by serving as a role model to others, but especially women and girls; by mentoring others and helping them find direction and purpose in their lives; by persevering through adversity; by doing, well … all of the above.

As the stories will show, these are indeed, Women of Impact. They are:

Latoya Bosworth, who, through her work with MassHumanities, her coaching of professionals, her mentoring of young people, her efforts to promote breast health and the importance of mammograms, and much, much more, helps others “transcend limits and transform lives,” as she likes to say;

• Sister Mary Caritas, the 99-year-old leader and inspiration to generations of residents of this region. She has led hospitals, served on countless boards, and even led the effort to end the odor problems at Bondi’s Island. But mostly, she has shown others the value of getting involved and the power of perseverance;

• Jodi Falk, who has been on public assistance for a short time in her life and knows what food insecurity is all about. And that’s one of many chapters in her life that has enabled her to take the reins of the nonprofit Rachel’s Table, broaden its mission, create new programs, and meet the needs of more people in Western Mass. She is an innovator, a motivator, and a true leader;

Anika Lopes, an internationally recognized milliner (or hat maker) who returned to her ancestral home of Amherst three years ago and set about bringing its neglected history — particularly the history of the Black and indigenous people who shaped it — into the light, and lauched a foundation to help provide today’s BIPOC communities with opportunities for success;

Laurie Raymaakers, who knows that success in business does not come easy, but through hard work, sacrifice, and finding ways to make it through the difficult days that inevitably come. Her story brings all this home in a compelling way while also showing that there are many ways to touch people’s lives and impact the community we call home;

• Hilda Roqué, who came to Holyoke from Puerto Rico at age 14, far from home and with no sense of belonging. Her role as executive director of Nuestras Raíces comes with many responsibilities, including its mission to connect people to their roots through agriculture. But beyond that, she is committed to seeing that those arriving today, and in the years to come, are not made to feel as she was;

• Ashley Sullivan, who, even as she succeeded in college and in her early career in engineering, often felt inadequate for the task. Her achievements, capped by earning the presidency of her firm after two decades, has instilled in her a desire to inspire and support young engineers, especially young women, with not just opportunity, but confidence; and

• Aelan Tierney, who told BusinessWest that “architecture impacts every aspect of our life. If you’re in a good space, you do and feel good, and if you’re in a bad space, it can make your life difficult. I like how architecture makes an impact on people.” She has indeed made an impact with more than her architecture. She’s also a leader in her business and in the community, and she’s a true role model.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest 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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 133: October 17, 2022

George Interviews Ivan Shefrin, executive director for Comcast Business Managed Security Services

Cybersecurity: It’s not a matter for large companies, public utilities, and government agencies to consider. It’s a critical matter that should be a priority for businesses of all sizes. That’s the message delivered by Ivan Shefrin, executive director for Comcast Business Managed Security Services on the latest installment of BusinessTalk. In a wide-ranging discussion, Shefrin and BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talk about who the bad guys are, how they get into you system, how you can keep them out, and what you should do if they do get in  It’s must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented this week by BusinessWest  and Comcast Business, and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest 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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 130: September 26, 2022

George talks with Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District

Downtown Amherst was among the regions hardest hit by the pandemic. With more than 30,000 students, faculty, staff, and more gone from the equation, it became, in many respects, a ghost town. But it’s staging a strong comeback as the students and everyone else return and many new businesses open their doors. Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, talks about these developments with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien on the next installment of the BusinessTalk podcast. It’s must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest  and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

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Cover Story Healthcare Heroes

Since BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, launched the recognition program known as Healthcare Heroes in 2017, the initiative has more than succeeded in its quest to identify true leaders — not to mention inspiring stories — within this region’s large and very important healthcare sector.
The award was created to recognize those whose contributions to the health and well-being of this region, while known to some, needed to become known to all. And that is certainly true this year.
They are leaders. In some cases innovators or collaborators. In all cases, inspirations — people and organizations that have devoted their lives to improving the quality of individual lives and the health of entire communities. We find these stories to be compelling and inspirational, and we’re sure you will as well.

Overall, everyone who was nominated this year is a hero, but in the minds of our judges — the editors and management at BusinessWest — eight of these stories stood out among the others. The Healthcare Heroes for 2022 are (click on the names to read their stories):

See the BusinessWest 2022 Healthcare Heroes Special Section HERE.

We’re excited to celebrate our Healthcare Heroes on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Tickets cost $85 each, and tables of 10 or 12 are available.

The Healthcare Heroes program is being sponsored by presenting sponsors Elms College and Baystate Health/Health New England, and partner sponsors Trinity Health Of New England/Mercy Medical Center, American International College, and MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.

Presenting Sponsors

Partner Sponsor

Healthcare Heroes

Here, Shared Research by Nurses and Engineers Will Benefit Patients Everywhere

Co-directors Frank Sup and Karen Giuliano

Co-directors Frank Sup and Karen Giuliano. Leah Martin Photography

Intravenous (IV) infusion pump systems are among the most recognized technologies in healthcare, used by about 90% of hospital patients.

They’re also hopelessly out of date, Karen Giuliano said.

“The design has been around a long time, and hospitals don’t buy one; they buy an entire fleet. They have to invest in training, service contracts, and IT infrastructure. To install a platform is a huge investment and effort.”

And that has led to stagnation, she added. “Over 80% of pumps are really old platforms and don’t do the job they need to do. They’re not developed for today’s standards.”

Enter the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation at UMass Amherst, which has made improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps one of its first major projects. The team has been exploring flow-rate accuracy in a variety of settings and use cases, with the goal of developing pumps that eliminate inaccuracy, inconvenience, and resulting medical errors through new technology and simplified design.

The work is gaining widespread attention, as Giuliano, co-director of the center and associate professor of Nursing, and postdoctoral research fellow Jeannine Blake were recently recognized by the Assoc. for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) for the Best Research Paper in 2021.

Their paper, “Nurse and Pharmacist Knowledge of Intravenous Smart Pump System Setup Requirements,” explored knowledge of intravenous smart-pump system setup requirements among nurses and pharmacists. The results were published in Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology, AAMI’s peer-reviewed journal.

“There’s already a critical nursing shortage, fatigue, and burnout. How can robotics be used to maybe alleviate some of those problems? We can use robotics as an extension of the nurse.”

“We don’t want to build a new pump; we want to build a set of requirements for manufacturers that have been sitting idle for too long without being forced to innovate for the safety of patients and the workflow of the nurses,” Giuliano told BusinessWest.

The effort demonstrates the types of innovation she and Frank Sup, associate professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the other co-director of the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation, intended when they launched the center in early 2021. It also reflects the cross-educational opportunities for people like Blake, the first nursing doctoral student to enter an engineering postdoctoral fellowship at UMass.

“Students have come out of here with a siloed education, nurses and engineers. There’s not a natural inkling to work together; they might not even know the importance of collaborating in that way,” Giuliano said. “What we want is to have students graduate that already have that in common, to reach across the aisle. The healthcare environment should not be a silo.”

Under Sup’s leadership, the center has also begun research on the use of robotics in healthcare. It teams doctoral students from both engineering and nursing, as well as an undergraduate nursing honors student, to identify challenges and develop robotic solutions to improve healthcare delivery for patients and providers.

The incorporation of robotic technology into the healthcare system is ongoing and already includes innovations like fully autonomous disinfecting systems and invasive surgical devices, and Sup feels it’s essential that these new technologies are integrated into the field of nursing at multiple levels, including hospital administration, the clinical workplace, and university education. And students need to interact with robots to better understand and utilize this technology in a controlled setting before patient care is involved.

“What are robotics, what can they do, what are they good for, and how can we start to train nurses and engineers in robotics? What day-to-day situations might nurses face in the hospital, clinic, and home, and what might be the best use cases for these robotics systems?” he asked. “That’s where this program started. Nurses are not typically trained in robotics, so we actually start to expose them to these things.”

That may seem like a scary thought to some, or imply that robots could replace nurses, but that’s far from the case, Sup added.

“There’s already a critical nursing shortage, fatigue, and burnout. How can robotics be used to maybe alleviate some of those problems? We can use robotics as an extension of the nurse, potentially doing things when they’re not there, like monitoring and lower levels of service.”

By bringing nurses and engineers together at the earliest stages of product innovation, the Elaine Marieb Center promises a raft of such breakthroughs that will result in better technology and, more important, better patient care.

 

Come Together

This is how Giuliano and Sup described the center’s mission at its opening last year:

“Today, healthcare technologies are too often made without the insights and understanding that clinicians bring to the table. Nurses are end users, facing healthcare challenges on the frontlines of patient care. Engineers have the expertise and skills to envision and create medical devices and can work with nurses who bring the real-world healthcare experience needed to design the best possible products and solutions.

“This transformation depends heavily on collaborative research and development work among nursing, engineering, and other disciplines,” they went on. “The ability to quickly and effectively develop and test innovations requires both nursing and engineering skillsets. The power of the nurse-engineer approach is derived from the mutual collaboration between the two, where the nurse identifies the problem, and the engineer facilitates potential solutions.”

One problem in the past, both of them explained to BusinessWest, was that products too often wound up in the hands of nurses too far along in the design and development process to change very much.

“I realized how important it was to have a front-end-user perspective built into the products rather than trying to back-engineer it when it’s 90% done.”

Giuliano, with more than 25 years of experience in critical-care nursing, medical product development and innovation, and patient-centered clinical outcomes research, should know. Prior to joining UMass Amherst, she spent many years working on medical product development from an industry perspective, including 12 years with Philips Healthcare.

Early in her career, she said, “I realized how important it was to have a front-end-user perspective built into the products rather than trying to back-engineer it when it’s 90% done.”

Now, at the center, “we have the ability to prototype things and test them in nursing simulation labs and test them in actual hospitals,” she added, the latter through a collaboration with Baystate Health.

Meanwhile, Sup was also a natural choice to co-direct the new center. As director of UMass Amherst’s Mechatronics and Robotics Research Lab, his research has long focused on developing human-centered mechatronic technologies for augmenting human performance and exploring how to enable robots to fluently interact physically with humans. To that end, he brought teams of nursing and engineering students together to work on senior capstone design projects.

The model was formalized as the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation with the help of two major gifts: $1 million in seed funding from alumni Michael and Theresa Hluchyj, longtime supporters of both the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing; and $21.5 million from the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation to the College of Nursing, with a significant portion designated to support the new center.

“Innovation is often accelerated at the intersection of different academic disciplines,” Michael Hluchyj said when announcing the first gift. “The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”

And nurses need to have a seat at the innovation table early, Giuliano said.

“Nurses use more products and are part of more services than any other healthcare provicer,” she told BusinessWest. “If they’re not at the table, you’re not going to have the right products. They’re not going to be usable, and if they’re not usable, then they don’t do the job. And from an economic standpoint, they don’t generate the revenue that the company wants. So it’s a lose-lose, which we can turn into a win-win.

“We want to be a usability testing center,” she went on. “So if a company has a product at a certain point in development, has an idea what’s supposed to do and how it’s supposed to work and what its value is, we literally bring it into a sim lab.”

The usability test involves two people, a nurse and a volunteer patient, and both evaluate it, as test administrators watch how it’s used. “If the same mistake is made over and over, it’s a design flaw; it’s not a user error,” Giuliano explained. Then all those results and perceptions go back to manufacturer, who has the opportunity to make improvements early in the process.

To that end, the emerging product prototyping laboratory on the Amherst campus will enable students to design and prototype new products, while a proposed usability laboratory on the Mount Ida campus will allow for product and service testing by frontline clinical end users.

“Having a better understanding of frontline clinician knowledge is a fundamental part of our overall program of research on improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps,” Blake said when she and Giuliano received the AAMI’s award for their research earlier this year. “We are very excited to receive this award, which supports our continued efforts in this important area of research.”

 

Promising Outcomes

Better research resulting in better patient care is the goal, whether it’s IV pumps, robotics at the hospital bedside, or any number of other ongoing projects at the center, from cloud-based home-healthcare monitoring to wearable sensors that record body movement to assess chronic pain.

Part of the center’s raison d’être is that nurses and engineers are both trained problem solvers who rely on innovation to find solutions, but their paths rarely cross, and the timeframes required for them to find solutions are dramatically different.

Giuliano got her PhD while at Phillips Healthcare because “I really wanted to be a better researcher so I could test products in a meaningful way.” Later, she added, “I realized I liked academia — I was a better student as a 40-year-old than as a 20-year-old — and I knew I wanted to go into academia and try to recreate the nurse-engineer pairing in the academic environment.”

By teaming up with Sup, who was already pursuing those connections, and with the help of some generous gifts from supporters who saw potential in this model, a center was created that is not only generating some impressive outcomes, but is paving a new way for diverse minds to collaborate and improve the patient experience across the globe.

“The whole idea of this center is for academic clinicians, students, nurses, and doctors to bring in industry partners,” Sup said. “It’s going to be innovative, and it’s going to make a difference.”

And it clearly lives up to the title of Healthcare Hero in the category of Innovation.

“This work that’s being done will make its way to safety standards everywhere,” Giuliano said. “Nobody else is doing that. It’s huge.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

This Critical Team Provides Hope — and a Roadmap to Recovery

Team members of the Addiction Consult Service

Team members of the Addiction Consult Service at Holyoke Medical Center, from left: Eddie Rodriguez, John Martinez, Lauren Carpenter, Maria Quinn, Kelly Jean Deming, Em Moulton, and Jose Ramos.

 

Patrick Hamel remained calm and collected as he chronicled his quarter-century-long battle against addiction.

In telling that story, he recalled more relapses than he could count; how he lost jobs, alienated family and friends, and had run-ins with the law (including some B&Es to support his drug and alcohol use); getting thrown out of the house by his wife on a few occasions; the awkwardness of having his daughter visit him in a halfway house; and even that night a little more than two years ago when he decided that enough was enough and tried to end his life.

He didn’t become emotional — though he did have to stop and collect himself a few times — until he started talking about the Addiction Consult Service (ACS), or the Recovery Support Team, as members call it, at Holyoke Medical Center’s Comprehensive Care Center (CCC) and, especially, Maria Quinn, the charismatic psychiatric mental-health nurse practitioner and leader of that unit.

That’s because Quinn, those who work with her, and those to whom she has referred Hamel have enabled him to move beyond all that has happened to him and now lead a much better life.

“She just listened, and we came up with a plan. She got me hooked up with an amazing therapist. We saw each other every week — she was there for me; she was my support.”

“She is so amazing; she’s like my knight in shining armor,” said Hamel, who would then concisely and effectively sum up what Quinn and other members of this team do. “She just listened, and we came up with a plan. She got me hooked up with an amazing therapist. We saw each other every week — she was there for me; she was my support.

“Mind you, I’ve been in other types of medical treatment facilities and other programs,” he went on. “And I always felt like I was a number, or I was there to meet a quota; it was just a job. You can see with Maria that it’s not just a job; it’s something she’s passionate about.”

Patrick Hamel

Patrick Hamel says those at the Addiction Consult Service listened and helped him come up with a game plan for recovery.

Hamel didn’t nominate the ACS for the Healthcare Heroes award, but his words, and the emotion attached to them, help explain why this special unit is being honored this year in the Community Health category.

In short, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of people, who would say the same things if they were asked — about not just what the ACS does, but how it goes about its difficult and critically important work.

“We’re essentially ever-present — we like to make jokes that we stalk our patients while they’re here, even if we’re not fully involved,” she explained, adding that this is her way of saying that Recovery Support Team members make sure that those patients with addiction issues, either from the Emergency Department or inpatient units at the hospital — many of whom don’t have anyone to visit them while they are in the hospital, for many of the reasons Hamel listed above — have someone to talk to. And, far more importantly, someone to listen, someone who can help them determine what comes next for them, whatever that might be, including ongoing support at the CCC.

“That connection needs to happen so that people can stay and continue to get the treatment that they need,” said Quinn, adding that one of the goals of the program is to build trust among those touched by the ACS, because such trust has often been missing, and it is a key ingredient in their success.

“Historically, people with addiction haven’t been treated well in the healthcare system, so there’s a lot of mistrust, and we see that,” she noted. “We talk about it often and sense that the wall may be coming down and people are starting to bloom because we see our patients become a little more trusting.”

“One thing I’ve learned in this process is that everyone’s recovery is different. You have to listen to the patient to understand what they’re looking for in their recovery. By listening to them, I’ll know what kind of direction I can give them.”

Lauren Carpenter, a certified addictions nurse, agreed. When asked how she got into this specific line of work and what she likes about her work with this constituency, she said simply, “being able to help and care for people who aren’t used to being helped and cared for — building that connection and that rapport and making sure they know there is someone there who cares.”

The ACS is comprised of a nurse practitioner, a certified addictions nurse, a recovery-support coordinator, and recovery coaches. And, as noted, it is a collaborative effort, involving partners such as Tapestry Health, the Gándara Center (which employs the recovery coaches), River Valley Counseling Center, Hope for Holyoke, and the Holyoke Health Center. Together, these agencies are working to reduce opioid overdoses and help people like Hamel find a path to a better life.

The positive results of their efforts can be seen — and heard — with people like Patrick Hamel and countless others like him.

 

The Power of Hope

John Martinez’s battle against addiction was and is very similar to Hamel’s.

He described several stints of incarceration, homelessness, and, by his count, four suicide attempts.

He’s been sober now for 13 years and has spent the last several as a certified recovery coach, helping others find the strength and conviction to change their lives, as well as needed referrals and direction. The process starts simply with providing hope that life can get better, he said, adding that this isn’t all that coaches provide, but it may well be the most important thing.

“I remember being hopeless — I know what that’s like,” he recalled. “One thing I’ve learned in this process is that everyone’s recovery is different. You have to listen to the patient to understand what they’re looking for in their recovery. By listening to them, I’ll know what kind of direction I can give them.”

Recovery coach John Martinez

Recovery coach John Martinez says that, among other things, he provides those he counsels with the hope that life can get better.

As noted, recovery coaches are part of the team at the Comprehensive Care Center, and part of a broad, collaborative effort that has come together at a critical time for the Greater Holyoke area.

Indeed, while much of the focus the past few years has been on the pandemic, and understandably so, addiction has only become a bigger, more dangerous, and more deadly problem for the region.

The number of opioid-related overdose deaths increased 9% in Massachusetts in 2021 over 2020. Meanwhile, there are significant disparities in overdose rates, particularly among Black and Latino individuals in Massachusetts; from 2019 to 2020, there was a 70% increase in overdose deaths among Black/non-Hispanic individuals and a 10% increase in Hispanic/Latinx individuals. From 2020 to 2021, there was a 6% decrease in Black/non-Hispanic deaths and an increase of more than 7% for Hispanic/Latinx individuals, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Steadily rising numbers over the past several years prompted the HEALing Communities Study, whereby scientists from the nation’s leading health agencies and four major academic institutions are partnering with communities in four states, including Massachusetts, to test a set of interventions designed to reduce overdose deaths by 40% over three years in participating communities.

Through a grant awarded to Boston Medical Center, a collaborative was created involving several agencies in Greater Holyoke, with Quinn taking the lead as the appointed addiction expert for the Holyoke community. The goal is to address opioid use, with a specific focus on overdoses, she said, adding that the linchpin of the initiative was creation of the ACS and the CCC.

“Prior to that, it was just me trying to do it all — start people on medication, get referrals out, try to make appointments, trying to get people to stay here [the hospital] — and it was challenging.”

“Our goal is not to cure them; our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect, and that includes treating their withdrawal. It includes giving education and resources. Some people decide that they no longer want to use and want to work toward abstaining and not using, and some don’t.”

With the grant funds, Quinn was able to hire Carpenter as well as a recovery-support coordinator and other team members.

Together, they have put together a system to “find patients,” said Quinn, noting that, before creation of the ACS, many would essentially fall through the cracks.

“Lauren became really good at figuring out which patients we should look at, and we started finding our patients and going to them, often intervening even before a consult was sent,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s important because people would be leaving the hospital; if you were using opioids or were addicted to opioids, in particular, and didn’t get that, you would feel really, really sick, and if your withdrawal wasn’t being treated, you would probably be leaving.

“So we’d introduce ourselves and let people know why were there,” she went on, adding that, by and large, patients were not used to such a “proactive and impactive” approach to their care, and would have questions about what they could do for them.

What they can do is listen and begin a discussion about what happens next, said Carpenter, who walked through what might be a typical case.

“Someone will come into the ED, and I’ll get notified that this person is there and that they are in withdrawal,” she explained. “At that point, I will meet with the person, gather a history, assess their withdrawal, and then I’ll get Maria involved. I’ll talk with the ED provider, Maria, the addiction consult … Maria will meet with the patient, give recommendations, and order appropriate medications to treat their withdrawal. And when someone is actually on the med floor, we’d start the discussion of ‘what do you want to do from here?’”

As Quinn noted, the course varies with the patient. Often, those at the ACS will connect them to opioid-treatment programs, including two in Holyoke, if they are not already in a program, or connect them with a recovery coach while they are in the hospital.

“Not everyone’s goal is abstinence,” she said. “Our goal is not to cure them; our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect, and that includes treating their withdrawal. It includes giving education and resources. Some people decide that they no longer want to use and want to work toward abstaining and not using, and some don’t.”

When asked how those at the ACS measure success, Quinn said it depends on what how the patient would define that term.

“For some people, having air in their lungs is successful,” she told BusinessWest. “Anyone who leaves here feeling that they’ve been treated well … that’s a big success for me.”

 

Impact Statement

As he talked about Quinn and those she works beside at the CCC, Hamel stressed the present tense.

He is still working with these individuals at the CCC, and they are still making a huge impact on his recovery. He’s not sure they, and especially Quinn, understand just how much of an impact. So, he made it clear.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” he said, adding that these individuals are more than healthcare providers, but are, in many respects, friends and even family.

“They want to make a difference — it’s not just about an f-ing paycheck,” he said in conclusion. “That’s where I get a little passionate and emotional; two years ago, I wanted to kill myself, and now…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but didn’t really have to. The pause explained not only the journey from where he was to where he is now, but why the Addiction Consult Service is truly a Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Chief and Physician, Baystate Noble Hospital Emergency Department

He Has Devoted His Career to Improving the Community’s ‘Safety Net’ Net’

Leah Martin Photography

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, or ‘Sunny,’ as most everyone calls him, has always felt at home in the emergency room, and he has never really wanted to work anywhere else.

There is a fast pace and decidedly unpredictable nature to the work, he told BusinessWest, noting that each day, and each hour, are different from the one before and the one after. But there are many more reasons why he has chosen to spend his career in this setting, the most important being the ER’s important role, both to the hospital in question and to the community it serves.

“The emergency room is the safety net for all patients,” Shukla explained. “Many patients do not have access to healthcare; we feel that the ER can provide care to anyone who walks through the door, regardless of whether you have insurance, regardless of your background; we’ll see anyone who walks through our doors, and I’m proud to say that.”

But Shukla has done more than work in the ER. Indeed, throughout his career he has devoted time and energy to bringing new efficiencies, better ways of serving patients, and, yes, better ways of doing business to the ER, especially in his current role as chief of the Emergency Department at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield.

And he brings what would be considered a somewhat unique background to this assignment. In addition to his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri and his medical degree from Manpial University in Karnatka, India, Shukla also earned an MBA, with an emphasis in medical management, from UMass Amherst in 2017.

He has used all these degrees, as well as his hands-on experience in the ER, to help improve service, efficiency, and quality, and reduce wait times and what are known as ‘walkouts’ — people who come to the ER but leave before being seen, for whatever reason.

“Having earned that MBA, I was able to reconfigure how I look at things in my brain. Before, it was all medicine-related, but by doing the MBA, I was able to focus on flow and how we could improve certain processes to make an impact on the total visit.”

“Having earned that MBA, I was able to reconfigure how I look at things in my brain,” he told BusnessWest. “Before, it was all medicine-related, but by doing the MBA, I was able to focus on flow and how we could improve certain processes to make an impact on the total visit.

“At Baystate Noble, we do small thinks like put a greeter in the waiting room so when patients come in there’s someone they can talk to, someone they ask questions to; they round, they give patients blankets or small things just to make them feel appreciated,” he went on. “We also strive to push our nurses and docs to really bring patients in when they come into the ER; they don’t sit very long in the waiting room.”

As a result of such initiatives, Noble’s ER has made great strides during Shukla’s tenure. The unit has dramatically increased patient-satisfaction scores, for example, while also gaining certification as a geriatric ED, well-suited to serve the needs of older patients in the community.

The sum of these efforts has earned Shukla the Healthcare Heroes award in the highly competitive category known as Emerging Leader. And he is worthy of that designation, not only for his work in the ER, but also at Baystate Health (he is on the system’s board of directors), in the community (he sits on the nonprofit People’s Institute and also coaches youth soccer and baseball), and even on the ice.

Indeed, Shukla is one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds, and was with the team through its exciting run to the Calder Cup finals last season.

He described that work as fun and rewarding — adjectives he would apply to every aspect of his work in medicine and administration.

 

Degrees of Improvement

Shukla was born in England and came to this country with his family in 1980. Early on, he said, his father, a professor of Pharmacology at the University of Missouri, and mother, a school teacher, impressed upon him the importance of not only education, but service to the community.

He achieved both while serving as a volunteer at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics while in junior high school, work he described as a learning experience on many levels.

“During the summer, I went there every Tuesday and Wednesday and spent eight hours each day volunteering in different parts of the hospital,” he recalled. “It was then that I realized that this was my true calling because I really wanted to help people and really wanted to make a difference.”

After graduating from medical school, he became a resident at Baystate Medical Center with a focus initially on general surgery. But at the advice of some friends who implored him to consider emergency medicine because he seemed a natural for that kind of work, his career outlook began to shift.

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, seen here with his son, Deven

Dr. Sundeep Shukla, seen here with his son, Deven, is one of the team physicians for the Springfield Thunderbirds, one of the many ways he is involved in the community.

“I did some shadowing, I did some shifts in the ER, and eventually I went through the process of applying to be an ER resident,” he said, adding that he quickly fell in love with that setting — again, not just because of the fast pace and each-day-is-different aspect of the work.

“Not everyone has access to healthcare, and I’m a big proponent of health equity because I feel everyone should have the same access to healthcare as your next-door neighbor,” said Shukla, who, before coming to Noble, served as associate medical director in the Emergency Department at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “When patients some come to my ER, I treat them with respect, I treat them exactly how I’d want to treat my family members, and I try to everything I can to make sure their health is better when they leave the ER.”

Elaborating, he said many people are coming to the ER on the worst day of their life, whether they’re having a stroke, a heart attack, or other medical problem, and it is the job of the ER doctor to “step up and help those patients.”

“It’s our goal to help lift them up and help them feel better,” he went on. “And in terms of mindset, you have to be able to function on the go and multi-task many different things, because there so many problems that are detail-oriented: the lab or CT scan, whether you have to stitch someone up, give different medications … there are all these processes you have to follow, and with every visit, there’s quality involved, and you have to meet certain metrics.”

Despite the fast pace and the constant flow of new patients, Shukla said he makes it a priority to truly connect with his patients.

“I always try to make a connection with my patients because, if I’m able to make that connection, whether it’s with a sports team that they like or a restaurant that they enjoy or some type of hobby they like, I feel like we can relate much better, and they can trust me. They just met me just a few minutes ago, so it’s really important that I build a trust and a relationship with them so that when I give them advice or we have what’s called ‘shared decision making,’ we can come with a good plan together. That’s why I’ll always spend the extra minute just to know them a little better.”

“They just met me just a few minutes ago, so it’s really important that I build a trust and a relationship with them so that when I give them advice or we have what’s called ‘shared decision making,’ we can come with a good plan together. That’s why I’ll always spend the extra minute just to know them a little better.”

Shukla currently works at all the hospitals in the Baystate system — Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Wing, and Baystate Noble — and became chief of the ER at Noble in March 2020, just as the pandemic was reaching Western Mass.

In each setting, and especially at Noble, he has been consumed with not only treating patients and making those important connections, but improving the overall experience.

“We try to look at the entire process — from when a patient walks into the waiting room all the way to when they go home,” he explained, adding that little things, such as having a greeter in the ER and having nurses, doctors, and other care providers working collaboratively so that patients don’t have to repeat their history and answer the same questions over and over again, often add up to big improvements in service, patient-satisfaction ratings, and statistics such as those concerning walkouts.

“The most dreaded word that most people see in emergency medicine is walkouts, which is basically a person who registered but wasn’t actually seen,” Shukla said. “That’s a problem throughout the United States, so we work really hard in the Baystate Health system to bring those numbers down. Even one patient walking out troubles us.”

Meanwhile, throughout his career, and even more so during COVID, he has put considerable emphasis on outreach and educating the community, with the goal of helping people make better, smarter choices about their health and well-being.

Indeed, he’s a frequent guest on area radio stations and has penned articles for several media outlets, all with the goal of creating a better-informed community.

“If people are educated, they can take care if their health better,” he said, adding that such efforts took on greater importance during the height of the pandemic, when the public had more questions — and needed more answers — and trust was a huge factor.

“We had a lot of COVID issues to contend with, but we also had to build up trust in the community,” he said, “because a lot of people were concerned about the ways people were contracting COVID, how they would protect themselves, the vaccines … there were many thongs we had to educate people on, and we did a lot of outreach for that.”

 

ERing on the Side of Caution

Overall, Shukla, as chief of the ER, assumes a role that blends medicine with administration, and, with his background and MBA training, he can bring a unique perspective to the table.

“Not many physicians go back and get a degree like an MBA; most of us go to school for a very long time as physicians, so not a lot of us go back,” he explained, adding that he enjoys both sides of the equation — business and especially medicine.

“It’s important for me to be well-rounded and understand how things are run,” he said, adding that he took a marketing class in 10th grade and since then has always been fascinated by business and management. “I really enjoy business, and so there’s the budget/financial aspect that I really like in administration, because I feel I can look at spreadsheets and Excel sheets in a different way than I did a few years ago before I earned my MBA.

“I understand the budget and the finances a lot more than I used to,” he went on, “and also how I can cut costs and improve efficiency in the ER, whether it’s flow in the ER or how I can reduce the cost of staffing or increase staffing to help show a return on investment.”

Going all the way back to when he was volunteering at the University of Missouri Hospital as a junior-high student, Sunny Shulka has known that he was destined to be in a profession — and a place — where he could help people.

That profession turned out to be healthcare, and the place is the ER, or the safety net, as he called it, which is now more his home.

For his efforts to continually improve that safety net, make it stronger, more welcoming, more comfortable, and better able to serve all those who come through its doors, Shukla is certainly an emerging leader, and truly a Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Chief Operating Officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

This COO Empowers Team Members and Leads by Example

Leah Martin Photography

 

Mark Paglia was a wrestler at Cathedral High School and later at American International College.

He said the great thing about wrestling is there is “no one-size-fits-all method that leads to success.” But there are several qualities, traits, and habits that wrestlers possess. “They trust themselves and count on their teams to train together to get better. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They are disciplined, grateful, focused, detailed-oriented, and able to adjust.”

These are qualities, Paglia told BusinessWest, that positioned him well for his current role as chief operating officer at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and the myriad challenges that have come with that assignment.

While working for Mercy Medical Center and its parent company, Trinity Health Of New England, Paglia served in several different roles, including executive director of Behavioral Health. He would sum up his tenure this way:

“I became the ‘project guy,’ the ‘turn-around guy,’ where I would be asked to go into departments or services that were really struggling both from a regulatory side or the financial side and turn them around,’” he said.

He was given a number of difficult assignments in that vein, such as leading efforts which led to the successful redesign of the methadone maintenance treatment program, resulting in two-year licensure with the Department of Public Health; leading efforts to open the new Clinical Stabilization Services unit; stabilizing redesign throughput for behavioral-health patients in Mercy’s emergency room; and leading the Outpatient department from a state of uncertainty to being fully licensed and financially viable. Ultimately, he was charged with winding down behavioral-health services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital when Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close them in 2020.

As noted, these experiences, including his wrestling prowess, helped steel him for what has been his most stern career challenge, but also the most rewarding one: opening a new behavioral-health hospital, MiraVista, at the Providence Hospital site in April 2021 — in very little time, in the middle of a pandemic, in the midst of a nationwide nursing shortage and general workforce crisis, and at a time when the need for behavioral-health services was soaring due to COVID and the many ways it impacted people of all ages.

“I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

But his efforts to open MiraVista’s doors under such difficult circumstances and then put it on a path to accreditation and expansion of both inpatient and outpatient services only partly explains why Paglia has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Health/Wellness Administrator category.

Another key consideration is the manner in which he manages — and has managed throughout his career.

He calls it ‘invitational leadership,’ which, as that name suggests, aims to ‘invite’ employees and all other stakeholders to succeed. It involves sending positive messages to people, making them feel valued, able, responsible, and worthwhile.

“I identify goals for the organization and goals for the various departments, and then invite the individuals responsible for that work to participate and own the work,” he said while explaining what this practice means to him. “Through that, I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

Summarizing thoughts expressed by team members at MiraVista, Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer and herself a Healthcare Hero in the Emerging Leader category in 2017, wrote in her nomination of Paglia:

“His impact is garnered through his compassionate and inclusive leadership of clinical and operations teams; we find Mark, more often than not, behind the scenes working with the team and individual staff members to make them as effective and productive as they can be. Universally, team members remarked that Mark inspires them to do their best work for patients and for each other because he makes them feel their contribution is valued and an essential part of the process. Simply put, he listens. He engages people and integrates ideas, and this is what distinguishes him as a hero; his impact has longevity and grows exponentially through others.”

Such sentiments explain why Paglia will be taking the stage at the Log Cabin on Oct. 27 to be recognized as a Healthcare Hero. More importantly, they explain why he has emerged as a true leader within this region’s healthcare sector.

 

Taking the Lead

Paglia took what would be considered a non-traditional path to his current post with MiraVista.

Indeed, after earning a degree in business management at AIC, he went to work for a flat-glass manufacturing company. Along the way, he was asked to coach wrestling at Minnechaug High School, a role that made him realize how much he liked working with young people and helping them develop.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

That experience inspired him to go back to school to earn a teaching degree. He would eventually land a job in Connecticut working in a day-treatment program for youth with behavioral-health issues.

“I was really drawn to the kids, but I felt like I didn’t have enough time with them in the school setting,” he told BusinessWest, adding that these sentiments led to another rather sharp turn on the career path, this one taking him to a job as director of the Adolescent and Family Services Department at the Gándara Center’s main office in Springfield.

“I think that’s where I found my passion for caring for those who are in need,” he explained. “And that’s where I started to understand business management and performance management, and that’s where I learned the invitational model of empowering people; that was the foundation for my career.”

Fast-forwarding somewhat, Paglia said he spent nine years at Gándara before becoming program director for the Brightside Treatment Center, part of the Sisters of Providence Health System, in 2009, and later became director of Outpatient Services – Behavioral Health at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, and then executive director of Behavioral Health for Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates, including Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, Brightside, and behavioral-health services on the Mercy campus.

“I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

While he was in that role, Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in early 2021, leaving a huge void in services available to the public.

Seeking to fill that void, Health Partners of New England acquired the property with GFI Partners with the intention of bringing back inpatient psychiatric services and a compliment of substance-use programming. And it turned to Paglia to get that difficult job done.

Recalling those days and, ultimately, the reopening of that facility, Paglia said the sum of his previous experiences certainly helped him overcome a number of hurdles, adding that he was essentially starting up a new business, starting with the hiring of staff.

The first priority was the methadone clinic, which served 600 patients and needed to remain open, and did, with the transition from Trinity Health Of New England to MiraVista, sister facility to TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in Devens, taking place at midnight on April 20. What followed was a ramping up to open an adult inpatient psychiatric unit, he went on, adding that this was achieved 10 days after the acquisition, with a second unit added in June, followed by a detox unit and then an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit, a clinical stabilization service unit, and other substance-use addiction services.

From left, Mark Paglia with Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer; Erica Trudell, director of Nursing for Inpatient Behavioral Health Services & Education; and Alicia Morel, Talent Acquisition specialist.

Overall, MiraVista has expanded inpatient bed capacity from 36 at opening to 101 today. This includes 50 acute-care psychiatric beds in separate units for adults and adolescents, 30 detoxification beds in its acute-treatment unit for substance-use disorders, and 21 beds in post-detoxification for individuals transitioning to outpatient care. And it is staffing up for the opening of another unit, a substance-use program. Meanwhile, planning and preparation continue for the opening of what Paglia called the most challenging unit — a child psychiatric facility — with an anticipated opening date of February 2023.

Overall, MiraVista has gone from one employee, Paglia, to roughly 350 team members in just over 16 months — again, in the middle of a pandemic and a workforce crisis. In a word, he described this as an “extraordinary” accomplishment, adding that “we are midway through our journey to hire the very best staff to reach an expected 650 employees.”

Equally impressive, he said, is the number of visits from the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation that the facility and its team have endured on its way to accreditation.

“Typically, an organization has one visit every three years for their accreditation,” he explained. “Because we had different lines in different units open at different times, we had four surprise Joint Commission visits where they did a complete audit and survey, and I’m incredibly proud that we passed all four with deeemed status, which gives us the opportunity to qualify for our CMS-contracted services with Medicare and Medicaid, which is a difficult achievement. To do all that in one year is pretty extraordinary.”

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful.”

He credits all that MiraVista has achieved to date to the team of leaders he has assembled.

“I attribute a lot of it to the leaders that we were able to bring in to create the foundation for this organization,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

 

Shared Mindset

One of the goals of invitational management is to make all members of a team feel the same way, Paglia explained, adding that he strives to accomplish such sentiment through active listening, getting employees involved, inspiring them to assume a sense of ownership in the operation, and making sure those in every position know they have an active role in the success of the company.

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center is appropriately lit up for September, which is Recovery Month.

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful,” he said, adding that one of the goals for him and other leaders is to match this passion with career opportunities that will enable those individuals — and the company — to grow.

While doing all that, he also likes to bring fun into the equation. In fact, it’s a big part of the success formula.

“We plan for fun,” he said, adding that an ‘engagement committee’ he established has launched several initiatives that team members can take part in together, from a Halloween party to a recent barbecue and cornhole tournament; from an ice-cream social to fitness challenges.

The cornhole event and ‘mismatch day,’ where employees wear outfits that do not match, don’t explain why Paglia is an effective leader — or a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Administrator category.

But they are part of the explanation.

There are, in fact, many parts to this equation, but the result is an engaging administrator who has taken the lead at MiraVista — in every sense of that phrase.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Director of Medical Oncology, Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, Mercy Medical Center

This Physician Provides a Needed Blend of Science and Humanity

Leah Martin Photography

 

On one wall of Dr. Philip Glynn’s office at the Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, sharing space with some diplomas and a few other photographs, is a framed, signed picture of Glynn standing beside Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Glynn was instrumental in bringing Mukherjee to Springfield several years ago for a talk at CityStage, and prevailed upon the author, and fellow oncologist, for a photo that would become a treasured keepsake.

As he talked with BusinessWest about his career and being chosen as the Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider category, Glynn gestured toward the photo — but really Mukherjee and his widely acclaimed book — on several occasions.

He did so to indicate everything from his great fondness for the book and general agreement its author on the progress made to date to the promise of great advancements in the future, to the fact that cancer, treating patients diagnosed with it, and providing them and their families with an all-important support system has in many ways defined his life and career.

Indeed, for more than 35 years now, Glynn has been at the forefront of cancer treatment in this region, touching the lives of several generations of area residents, and in many different ways — but mostly by providing quality of life, however it is to be defined by each patient, a subject we’ll return to later.

“It’s such a challenging balance — the human side and the science side. We are all disciplined to make sure that we stay abreast of the science side — that’s our fundamental responsibility, and it all starts with knowledge; there’s no substitute for that. How you integrate that into what patients need on a daily basis … that’s the art of it.”

While he is being honored as a Healthcare Hero in the Provider category, Glynn could be a recipient in almost every one of the others, with the notable exception of Emerging Leader, which would have been an apt description a few decades ago.

He has been an effective administrator and leader, having been instrumental in creating a comprehensive oncology program at Mercy that rivals anything that can be found in much larger cities such as Boston and New York.

Meanwhile, he has been innovative on many fronts, from the telehealth program he piloted in 2017 that allows Mercy cancer patients to get a second opinion on treatment from physicians at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, to his leadership role in creation of a new palliative-care unit that at Mercy that take the name of one of Glynn’s patients, the late restaurateur and serial entrepreneur Andy Yee.

He would certainly draw consideration in the Community Health and Collaboration categories for his work in this region to not only treat cancer but work in concert with others to diagnose and prevent it. And the sum of his many accomplishments would make him worthy of the Lifetime Achievement honor.

Dr. Philip Glynn, seen here with Oncology Nurse Manager Cynthia Leonard

Dr. Philip Glynn, seen here with Oncology Nurse Manager Cynthia Leonard (left) and Stephanie Palange, RN, has spent his career guiding patients and their families through their cancer ‘journeys.’

But he is being honored in the Provider category because this is what Glynn, who is certified in medical oncology, palliative care and hospice, and internal medicine is perhaps most noted for — being a provider, of not only direct care, but also information, guidance, and, on many occasions, inspiration to fight the most difficult fight of one’s life.

He is described as a fierce advocate for his patients and a great listener who enables patients and their family members to be heard. Glynn said that what begins when individuals hear that they have cancer is a journey, one that often tests them in ways they could not have foreseen or imagined, and he is there with them for every step of that journey.

Overall, he described oncology as an intricate, all-important blend of science and humanity.

“It’s such a challenging balance — the human side and the science side,” he said. “We are all disciplined to make sure that we stay abreast of the science side — that’s our fundamental responsibility, and it all starts with knowledge; there’s no substitute for that. How you integrate that into what patients need on a daily basis … that’s the art of it.

“The other thing that’s really important is that you don’t give treatment for hope. You give treatment to help people live longer and better.”

“And that’s where the greatest satisfaction comes in,” he continued. “When you sit down with someone and say, ‘here’s what we’ve got, here’s the science that will take care of this disease, here’s the limits of the science for this disease’ — that communication with the patient, with the family, brings you to the point where they’re comfortable with the plan of action.”

Making patients and families comfortable, in every sense of that term, is why Glynn is certainly worthy to be called a Healthcare Hero.

 

A Compelling Story

As he offered BusinessWest a tour of the Caritas Center, Glynn talked with recognizable pride in his voice about what has been accomplished at that facility.

Formerly a provider of radiation treatment, it is now a true cancer center, he said, noting that it now includes a large treatment space with more than 30 infusion bays, an oncology pharmacy, laboratory space, and other facilities. Overall, the center provides care that may include cancer surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials that provide patients with access to new treatments.

In many respects, the expansion and evolution of the cancer center is the culmination of a career spent in oncology, one that was inspired by many factors and several role models.

Early on, however, Glynn wasn’t sure if he was a good enough student or if he would work hard enough to pursue a career a health career.

Two summers working as an orderly at an Appalachian hospital in West Virginia while he was attending Boston College eventually convinced him that he did.

“The second summer I was there, I was hooked. I said, ‘this is what I want to do,’” he recalled. “It was a great experience; it all become something that I wanted to be part of.”

Glynn earned a degree in psychology at BC, attended Columbia University for pre-med, and earned his medical degree in Italy after failing to gain admission to schools in this country (and learning Italian). After residency at St. Raphael Hospital in New Haven, he completed a medical oncology fellowship at Baystate Medical Center.

Initially, he had visions of becoming a primary-care physician in a rural setting, but during residency, several role models in oncology steered him toward that specialty. He went into private practice, first in Agawam and then Springfield, while also serving as director of Medical Oncology at Noble Hospital and the Noble VNA and Hospice Service.

In 2012, he joined Mercy Medical Center and the Sister Caritas Cancer Center as director of Medical Oncology. In that role, he wears many hats and is responsible for all aspects of the program, including cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, state-of-the-art treatment and services, counseling, and rehabilitation. He also assists with the implementation of new initiatives, such as cancer survivorship, navigation, community outreach, and clinical research and clinical-trial participation.

He is also a provider, seeing 20 patients a day on average and guiding them through their own individual journey that generally begins with three basic questions regarding their cancer: ‘what is it?’ ‘how much is there?’ and ‘what are you going to do about it?’”

Obviously, the answer to that last question has changed most profoundly over the course of his career.

“I couldn’t have imagined it when I started; it’s changed that much,” Glynn said, gesturing toward the picture on the wall and how Mukherjee had carefully and effectively chronicled the advancements. “Seventy years ago, we did gruesome surgery, and then we had gruesome surgery with radiation, and then you added in chemotherapy. But now we’ve learned about cell biology and what drives cancer cells, so we look at genes, potential immunotherapy, a host of options; it’s absolutely exceptional.”

His ultimate goal is to bring to each patient an improved quality of life, which, as noted, varies with each case.

“If you come in, an oncologist sits down, describes to you what you have, and says, ‘this is not a curable disease; this is lung cancer that has spread to the bone,’ or ‘this is colorectal cancer that has gone to multiple different organs; you do not have a curable disease. Then, what becomes critically important is to give a treatment that is going to ideally shrink the tumor and help someone live longer and better,” he explained. “You need to avoid treatments that are going to make the treatment worse than the disease. Someone may come in with bad disease, but they’re not terribly symptomatic with it … you don’t want to give them a treatment that’s going to be terribly debilitating if you can’t give them some kind of promise that they’re going to live longer from it.

“On the other hand, if you take the other end of the spectrum, the 22-year-old kid with an advanced testicular cancer … that kind can be cured,” he went on. “You have the conversation with him and say, ‘look, the next several months are going to be hell, but you’re going to get through it, and you’re walking away. That quality of life is a quality of life you’re giving a promise to — ‘you’re going to be OK,’ as opposed to the quality of life of ‘this isn’t curable, but we’re going to make sure you’re as comfortable as you possibly can be.

“The other thing that’s really important is that you don’t give treatment for hope,” Glynn continued. “You give treatment to help people live longer and better.” All this brings him back to that integration of humanity and science that he spoke of earlier, a balance, he said, which is at the very heart of effective oncology care.

There are many aspects to this equation, he added, with one of the most important, and sometimes the challenging, being communication and providing information.

“And there are times when it gets really hard,” he explained. “We live in a world that’s packed with information. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s not so good. Patients come in with very unrealistic expectations, and that becomes a very challenging conversation.”

For that reason, he brings patients to his office, positions them in front of his computer, and directs them to websites he considers reliable, with much of the rest he described as ‘storytelling.’

He said patients — and, often, family members — want and need to know about everything from prognosis to the toxicity of treatments; from their therapeutic options to recovery time and what recovery will be like.

“But it’s also important to let them know that we’re going to have a support system there for them,” he explained. “There is going to be a doctor available 24/7.”

Throughout his career, Glynn has been that doctor, there for early-morning and late-night phone calls to make sure patients are heard, and staying with them often well beyond the end of treatment, regardless of outcome.

 

The Plot Thickens

Returning once again to the photo on wall, Glynn said he believes the best message of that book is the promise of the future.

“He [Mukherjee] says that we probably won’t cure cancer, and I find that sensible,” Glynn noted. “After all, we don’t cure diabetes, we don’t cure heart disease, and we won’t cure cancer.”

But there will be new advancements, new and better ways of screening, preventing, and treating the emperor of all maladies, he said, adding that, while his career is winding toward its conclusion, the oncologists who follow him will have new, previously unimagined tools with which to carry on the fight.

And they can certainly draw inspiration from him.

Glynn may not have written the definitive biography of cancer, but he has authored a remarkable career, one marked by treating patients with respect and dignity, handling the heavy burden of their care with grace and humility, and providing that critical blend of science and humanity.

And that makes him more of than worthy of the title Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic and Its Partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst

Helping People with Brain Injuries Maintain Function Is a Unique
Group Effort

Leah Martin Photography

Ellen Werner has been helping people with acquired brain injuries for decades.

But since she arrived at ServiceNet a decade ago, she’s learned how powerful collaboration can be in serving this population that often falls through the cracks in today’s healthcare system.

Werner’s work with ABI patients began in Pennsylvania, at one of the first dedicated brain-injury rehabilitation programs in the country, Bryn Mawr Rehab. After moving to Massachusetts, she did homeless outreach through the Statewide Head Injury Program that was created in 1985. “I was trying to find people in shelters that had brain injuries and needed proper medical care and housing.”

When she was approached by the then-vice president of ServiceNet to help launch its Enrichment Center in 2013, she was intrigued; the center helps people with brain injuries to become more functional and engaged with others and their community.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them,” said Werner. “But I just didn’t know how we were going to afford therapies. The agency had already put in a lot of money just opening the program, so that’s when I started sending out messages. Springfield College was the first to respond to them.”

Today, the Enrichment Center and ServiceNet’s Strive Clinic in West Springfield — day programs for adults with brain injury caused by trauma or medical conditions — actively collaborate with two area academic institutions to provide outstanding rehabilitative care, while helping train the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them.”

This work began in 2014 when Werner, director of Operations at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, met with leaders of the Physical Therapy program at Springfield College to develop an innovative model of community-based care that would bring in graduate students, under the direction of their instructors and on-site clinical staff, to work with clients on a variety of PT modalities. The model proved so successful that this partnership expanded in 2017 to involve the Communications Disorders program at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health & Health Sciences in developing and providing speech-language pathology services at the Enrichment Center.

Since she facilitated those partnerships with Springfield College and UMass Amherst to better serve people with ABIs, the program has grown from a small group of students and instructors to a full-fledged clinical team.

Lisa Sommers, clinical director and clinical associate professor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst, said the partnership with the Enrichment Center is a natural offshoot of the clinical training program first-year graduate students have to complete.

Kathy Pappas

Kathy Pappas says the program wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Ellen Werner.

Kathleen Pappas, associate professor of Physical Therapy at Springfield College, agreed. “It really aligns with the mission of Springfield College to educate our students to become leaders in service.”

 

Specialized Care

The Enrichment Center is an adult day-care center that offers physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies as needed, but clients also have the ability to choose from an array of activities to help promote cognitive growth and social interaction, such as support groups, music and dance sessions, arts and crafts, and trips to museums, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.

The Strive Clinic uses the Enrichment Center’s well-equipped gym, providing a safe space for limited-contact services by appointment only, which allows for more individual work for a client.

Clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic are typically adults with ABIs, many of whom suffered them years ago. Brain injuries can be inflicted by traumatic, external forces, such as car accidents, assaults, and other forms of violence, or from medical issues, such as strokes, aneurisms, and brain tumors. An ABI can cause changes in identity, mental health, relationships, family structure, the ability to work, and economic status.

Years past the big event that altered their life, people with ABIs sometimes fall off the radar in the healthcare system, but ServiceNet and its partners want to change that. Clients are able to go through the Acquired Brain Injury/Moving Forward Plan (ABI/MFP) waiver program.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu … that is developed between them.”

“With the waiver, there’s really no end to the amount of therapy that we could provide people,” Werner said. “Our clients have really benefited from it; it’s just wonderful. We’ve had people that have been in wheelchairs for years, and now Kathy is getting them up, standing and walking. And we have clients that didn’t have communication devices that really benefit from them and the sessions provided now. There are all sorts of things that we’re able to do that we wouldn’t be able to do if we had just traditional insurance.”

Maintaining the client’s level, or hopefully going beyond it, requires constant, consistent therapy, she noted, so the waiver program allows the center and clinic to be more flexible in accepting and keeping clients. At the same time, the State Licensing Board of Massachusetts requires the facilities to follow all the same regulations any other clinic would follow.

The main focus for both facilities is to help people who are living with a brain injury to become more functional and engaged with others. And because every brain injury is different, students get a more varied education than they might elsewhere.

“By having us, the instructors, available on site, providing the supervision, we know exactly where they are in the curriculum,” Pappas said. “We hold them accountable to applying the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom and measuring that as they prepare to become entry-level clinicians.”

Because there isn’t any prior conditioning, students are able to adapt to the center and provide the care clients need, she noted. In short, they come in with a learner attitude, so they’re more receptive to the clients and their habits.

Many people have a narrow idea of what therapy is and what it should look like, but the programs provided by the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic “really explode that,” said Michael Starr, clinical instructor and supervisor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst. He went on to explain the relationships this intense care creates in the center.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

“At the end of a recent spring semester, the student clinician got a beautiful thank-you note written by this client who has a really hard time expressing herself through writing. They had been working on it all semester. So she was able to do that and send it to the clinician, which was amazing and left everyone in tears.”

Sommers said the client and student spend the semester teaching and connecting with one another, and that connection leaves a lasting impact on both of them.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu, like Michael said, that is developed between them,” she added. “I think it teaches them how to provide services across the continuum of a person’s life who is living with a brain injury.”

But while students and faculty are impacted, Starr added, the program can be life-changing for the clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic.

“The clients really love it so much. Certain clients will park themselves outside of our offices and wait and sometimes demand a session,” he noted. “Or I’ll go to get someone and say, ‘hey, do you have 30 minutes for a session?’ and they really want it, but they say, “I have to go to PT first,” and they’re on their way to PT because they’re not going to miss their appointment for love or money. They’ll come back and see me after. They just really love our services.”

He went on to tell BusinessWest that, because of their injury and especially when living in small group homes, clients can be marginalized or cut off from what’s happening in the world around them. Sommers agreed.

“When people encounter the medical system, there is so much that is determined for the patient, particularly when the patient can’t communicate or has cognitive impairments,” she said. “They don’t get to participate in person-centered care, which we know has the best outcomes, but is not really the model used in our healthcare system. And there are so many barriers for people — just think of all the cognitive challenges that are in our healthcare system. I can’t even navigate my own health insurance half the time and struggle if something isn’t covered or denied.”

Historically, the healthcare system has been “a top-down, patriarchal model,” Sommers added, putting clients in a vulnerable position emotionally, financially, medically, and more. Through the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, that model is upended, allowing clients “to have agency, to have a voice, to be able to say what they want and be able to say.”

 

Striving for Tomorrow

In supporting the program’s Healthcare Heroes nomination, Amy Timmins, vice president of Community Relations at ServiceNet, noted that “the partnership between ServiceNet, Springfield College, and the University of Massachusetts exemplifies the vision and innovation so central to the Pioneer Valley — where academic and healthcare programs are each strengthened by the other, for the benefit of those they serve. In working together, they have created an environment where new goals and possibilities are free to take hold every day.”

That they have, which is why Sommers sees potential for other collaborations; in fact, the clinical educators she’s worked with have also articulated as much because of the opportunities collaboration brings to the community.

Their next goal: “world domination,” Werner said with a laugh. Actually, she wants to continue to create more opportunities for people living with ABIs.

“In healthcare, it’s all about collaborating with other professionals, and Ellen has brought that to the top and forefront of what’s best for these clients,” Pappas said. “Without her vision and enthusiasm and ability to really work within and out of the system to make things happen, none of us would be here. So I am eternally grateful to her for what she’s given our students as opportunities and what she’s given to the clients on a daily basis.”

For finding and fostering the connections that not only help people with acquired brain injury, but cultivating the next generation of therapists, ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, and its academic partners, are certainly worthy of being called Healthcare Heroes.

 

Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Division Chief, General Medicine and Community Health, Baystate Health

He Convened a Broad, Effective, Street-level Response to a Pandemic

Leah Martin Photography

 

From his years working at a VA hospital in Rhode Island to his more recent community-health role overseeing Baystate Health’s medical practices in Springfield, Dr. Paul Pirraglia has always seen himself as a problem solver.

“It’s gratifying to take care of a patient and get a problem solved, or at least controlled for them — when you can address a concern that is having an impact, not just around a health issue, but in a broader sort of way,” he said. “Take a patient who has diabetes. You can get their diabetes under control, but because food is such a huge part of diabetes, if you can actually get them access to good, nutritious foods, then it’s not just about the diabetes; it’s a life changer in a way.

“As medical professionals, we really want to make a difference in people’s lives,” he went on. “So it’s gratifying to be able to serve when there’s a substantive need.”

COVID-19 would certainly qualify.

Which is why Dr. Andrew Artenstein, Baystate’s chief physician executive, who spearheaded pandemic response throughout the system when COVID arrived early in 2020, asked Pirraglia and Dr. Jackie Spain, co-chief medical officer of Baystate’s BeHealthy ACO, to convene a workgroup to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the most vulnerable patients in the community, particularly those with significant social needs.

“It was clear that traditionally underserved populations were going to get hit especially hard by this pandemic.”

The workgroup included representatives from Baystate Health and its four community health centers, Caring Health Center, the BeHealthy Partnership (a Medicaid accountable-care organization, or ACO, that includes Health New England as the insurer and Baystate Health and Caring Health Center as care sites), the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, and University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School – Baystate.

The group looked at factors that could contribute to risk, such as low-income housing, where COVID cases were occurring, where ACO members lived, medical conditions were associated with worse COVID outcomes, as well as solutions such as access to pharmacies that home-deliver, food delivery, and transportation.

“On a personal level, I’m drawn to research: here’s a vexing problem; how do we solve it?” Pirraglia said, which is one reason this strategy resonated with him. “When Dr. Artenstein said we needed to do something, it was very, very early on, but it was clear that traditionally underserved populations were going to get hit especially hard by this pandemic. He said, ‘do what you need to do; I’ve got your back.’ So what Jackie and I did was convene a group which was not limited to just Baystate; we got all the leaders we needed.”

That included professionals from a wide range of offices at Baystate and beyond, from infection control to diagnostics and laboratory; from diversity, equity, and inclusion to community relations.

“We were able to pull together a multi-disciplinary group of folks who saw the importance of convening and doing this work,” Pirraglia said. “Despite the jobs they had and their schedules, we met on a weekly basis for many, many months in a row; attendance was phenomenal. That’s because people saw the need to do this.”

This Springfield Housing Authority testing event

This Springfield Housing Authority testing event was organized by the COVID mitigation team.

The goal was to figure out the needs of the Springfield population and communicate with them in a way that was meaningful, and the work progressed rapidly.

Initially, the workgroup explored ways to protect people who were at risk, trying to catch people who had not been infected and keep them from getting infected, while identifying who was infected and making sure those around them had protection. To aid in this effort, a grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts enabled community health workers (CHWs) to supply materials such as facemasks, portable pulse oximeters to measure blood-oxygen levels, and room dividers and air mattresses so families could quarantine within their own living spaces.

“We really broke into two groups, one group more patient-facing and another group more community-facing, and then continued to meet and engage and make sure there was good crosstalk back and forth between us,” Pirraglia told BusinessWest, while stressing the importance of communication early on.

“The communication was with the community and within all the different groups that were participating in this workgroup. But we were also communicating with our community health workers, the on-the-ground folks, the ones gathering the patient needs and delivering on those needs. And the communication, I have to say, was pretty robust, in large part because people were committed to making this happen.”

The group performed geographic analysis to determine where to focus its efforts, gathering information about patient conditions in various areas so they could inform the CHWs on the ground about which areas were riskiest and who needed help, he explained.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important our community health workers were in this work. We were the coaches, but they were the players; they were the ones on the field making this happen.”

“We had to prioritize what we were doing, so communication was paramount. At our Tuesday meetings every week, we’d say, ‘this is what the maps are showing, this is what we now about pharmacy deliveries, this is what we know about food deliveries, this is what we know about the ability to reach out to people.’ We needed to make sure all the different arms knew what the others were doing so we were able to work in concert.”

 

Mission Accepted

In nominating him for the Healthcare Heroes award in the Collaboration category, Michael Knapik, Baystate’s vice president of Government and Community Relations, noted that Pirraglia — an attending physician who sees some of the city’s most vulnerable patients at Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center and also a professor of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School – Baystate who teaches residents at Baystate High Street Health Center and Baystate Brightwood Health Center — has always been mission-driven.

“This became especially important as the COVID pandemic snapped into sharp focus the inequities that have been occurring in healthcare,” Knapik said. “People who were already suffering due to inequities related to their vulnerabilities — socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and identification factors as well as medical comorbidity all contributing — were now at highest risk from COVID-19 in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and death.”

But Pirraglia himself stressed multiple times during his interview with BusinessWest that he’s not the Healthcare Hero here, not really.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important our community health workers were in this work,” he said. “We were the coaches, but they were the players; they were the ones on the field making this happen. Based on priority lists that we made for them, they were able to reach out to patients and find out what their needs were. We created a needs assessment, and then the CHWs were the ones who came up with a contact-free delivery system. COVID mitigation isn’t their primary work, but they jumped in with both feet: ‘what do you need us to do?’ If you ask me, they’re the heroes.”

As the initial surge eased and vaccines became available early in 2021, the workgroup pivoted to that effort, as vaccination delivery to traditionally underserved groups has been a challenge in a state where early allocations from the federal government were deemed insufficient to supply both mass-vaccination sites and smaller providers, Knapik noted. The rollout through a state registration site put those without access to the internet, as well as transportation to such sites, at a disadvantage.

To address this, Baystate started to vaccinate patients age 75 and older from its community health centers in lockstep with the state’s phased rollout, with staff calling patients and inviting them to get vaccinated. In all, they were able to vaccinate 650 people over the course of six weeks, many of them individuals who would have had difficulty getting to any of the state sites. Meanwhile, the workgroup used a series of webinars and other outreach programs to communicate the importance and safety of vaccines.

Pirraglia and his team prepared a lengthy article for the International Journal for Equity in Health last year called “COVID-19 Mitigation for High-risk Populations in Springfield,” detailing the workgroup’s efforts. It concluded, “our highly intentional and methodical approach to patient and community outreach with a strong geographic component has led to fruitful efforts in COVID-19 mitigation. Our patient-level outreach engages our health centers’ clinical teams, particularly community health workers, and is providing the direct benefit of material and service resources for our at-risk patients and their families. Our community efforts leveraged existing relationships and created new partnerships that continue to inform us — healthcare entities, healthcare employees, and clinical teams — so that we can grow and learn in order to authentically build trust and engagement.”

That’s not to say the group couldn’t have done some things differently, Pirraglia said. “It’s difficult because we’re not in a setting where these entities would necessarily be meeting and collaborating. So there was probably more we could have done that was broader and more in concert.

“But I feel confident that, if another crisis came, we could convene another group, or at least use the methodology we used,” he continued. “Certainly, the community outreach and patient-oriented piece of it worked really well, and we’d probably carry that forward if we had another crisis. It really was, in my mind, highly effective.”

 

Mission Accomplished

As noted earlier, Pirraglia has always taken a mission-based approach to care.

“What I mean by that is we take care of a traditionally underserved population with a lot of social challenges in their life,” he told BusinessWest. “These are patients who have difficulty with travel, with food, with shelter, with a lot of other issues in their lives. So just being able to deliver care is more challenging because the patients oftentimes have these other contexts to deal with. Our work has been to try to deliver the best care we can to our patients despite some of the challenges they face.”

Throw in a pandemic, and … well, you can see why we consider the effort heroic, even though Pirraglia doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“It was a really gratifying experience to have people totally on point, using their expertise in trying to figure out this really scary problem,” he said. “We learned that you can be nimble, you can be collaborative, you can tackle a really complex problem. And when you’re working on a group like this and the communication is good, the sense of mission is good, and there’s clarity about where we’re going with it, great things can happen.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Health and Human Services Commissioner, City of Springfield

Public Health Has Become Her Life’s Work

Leah Martin Photography

When then-Mayor Michael Albano invited her to take on the considerable challenge of directing Springfield’s Health Department and Human Services Department as one entity and oversee that consolidation effort, Helen Caulton-Harris was caught somewhat off guard.

She didn’t know Albano, was not active in his campaign for the corner office, and was not expecting any invitations to join his administration.

So when the request came, she had to think about it for a while, but eventually said ‘yes.’ But certainly not with the expectation that 26 years and two mayors (including the current office holder, Domenic Sarno, who has had the job for 14 years) later, she would still have that title on her business card.

“I certainly didn’t see this as something that I would be doing two and half decades later,” she said, adding that she has stayed in this post for several reasons, but especially because she loves not only the work, but also her ability to make a real difference in the community, and also because there is still considerable work to do.

And there are always new and different challenges to meet, not the least of which is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has tested Caulton-Harris and her department in every way imaginable. It has also been a learning experience on many different levels, as we’ll see, and one that has provided some valuable lessons on how things can be done better and more efficiently.

“The way in which our public-health community has shifted because of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to work together,” she told BusinessWest. “We understood that we had to collaborate and coordinate, and that we must share information. We’re no longer working exclusively in silos; we are working across the public-health venue.

“The way in which our public-health community has shifted because of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to work together.”

“Every two weeks, we have a session with all of our partners to talk about our outreach, lessons learned, and best practices,” she went on. “So those things are part of what has happened as far as COVID-19 is concerned — our communication strategies have become more concrete.”

Caulton-Harris is the 2022 Healthcare Hero in the prestigious Lifetime Achievement category, and she has truly accomplished quite a bit in her career, especially this current chapter.

Overall, she has been an advocate, a true believer in the power of information — she preaches education — and a leader who has taken problems head on and achieved notable progress in areas ranging from teen pregnancy to infant mortality; from care for the homeless population to policies limiting smoking in public places; from substance-use disorders to violence prevention.

There are always new challenges, she said, adding that, today, there are many that she and her department are addressing as the landscape continues to change and evolve.

“Today, we’re dealing with the legalization of marijuana; cannabis is legal, but we still need to educate people about it,” she noted. “Also, gaming and problem gambling. We also have an opioid crisis, which is different than other substance-abuse matters because of fentanyl and the cheap way in which individuals are getting their products and how it escalates and has such an impact on our young people and our communities as well.”

Helen Caulton-Harris has tackled many different public-health issues

Helen Caulton-Harris has tackled many different public-health issues over the years, from teen pregnancy and infant mortality to violence, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. Leah Martin Photography

While there have been many accomplishments during her lengthy career, she considers the biggest to be the merger of the Health and Human Services departments into one entity.

“They should not be seen as separate — they flow together,” she said with clear conviction in her voice. “I describe public health as a social-justice movement rooted in science. And Human Services really is about social justice.”

For all that she has accomplished during her life and career, and for the manner in which she has worked to improve the health and well-being of all those living, working, and doing business in the City of Homes, Caulton-Harris is a true Healthcare Hero.

 

A Life’s Work

When asked if she misses the regular weekly press briefings that came to symbolize the early months of the pandemic, Caulton-Harris flashed a wide smile and said simply, “not really.”

Those briefings, which also featured Sarno; Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health; and Dr. Robert Roose, chief administrative officer at Mercy Medical Center, were conducted to keep city residents informed about was happening and what to possibly expect next, and provide up-to-date statistics concerning cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and more.

She doesn’t miss them because they came to symbolize the very worst days of the pandemic in a city that was hit very hard by COVID. But also because, while Caulton-Harris, as noted, preaches the importance of information and education and still makes regular appearances on TV, she prefers not to be in front of the camera. Instead, she would rather be working behind the scenes, advocating of behalf of area residents and providing a voice for those who struggle to make to make their voice heard.

It has been that way since her early days in the broad realm of healthcare, working with women on the issue of reproductive health, a subject which has, to a large degree, come full circle with the recent Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (more on that later).

“I would talk to them about the choices as far as pregnancy, whether that was to continue the pregnancy, terminate, or adopt,” she said. “So very early on in my career, I became an advocate.”

Later, while working at what is now the Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center, she was influenced by several role models, especially African-American nurses, who showed her that there were career paths for young people like her.

“I got an opportunity to see what the possibilities were for my own career,” she said. “There were individuals from my community who were making a difference in the lives of others.”

“I did not believe it was going to go on for two and half years — we’re still dealing with the pandemic today. Early on, we thought it might be a month or two, but it continues to be a pervasive virus that we’re dealing with.”

In 1994, Caulton-Harris would become executive director of the Area Health Education Center at Springfield Technical Community College, one of six such facilities in the Commonwealth, a role that enabled her to work with young people who were interested in careers in healthcare.

“I got to mentor and nurture them in a way that was very special to me,” she said, adding that, while she was in that post, she was approached by Albano about being the first commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Recalling that conversation she had with the mayor about this opportunity that doubled as a stern challenge, she said it focused on why the departments should be merged and how that should be undertaken, but also how such a merger could help address the emerging health issues of that day.

And there were many of them, she recalled, citing a sky-high teen-pregnancy rate, an equally alarming infant-mortality rate, HIV/AIDS, violence, and drugs, among others.

And it was that conversation that prompted her to leave what was a good position and step into one that would be challenging on many levels but also one that would enable her to impact lives and make a difference in the community.

“I was not quite clear on the politics of the position,” she admitted. “For me, I filtered it with the fact that I really can make a difference in the city by putting policies in place that would stay as a foundation moving forward.”

And that is exactly what she has done.

 

Learning Experiences

While tackling the many challenges that impact health, Caulton-Harris and other city leaders were confronted by the pandemic, which in some ways defines her career, but also sums up her straight-on approach to issues affecting the public.

“The pandemic was something that I was not prepared for and could not have foreseen as something that I would have to deal with,” she told BusinessWest. “I don’t think anyone thought we’d be dealing with a pandemic like we did in 1918, but here we are, 100 years later, dealing with a global pandemic that was devastating the world.

“Very early on, it was clear that this was devastating — our hospitals were overrun with COVID patients; our community was devastated. The Black and Brown communities in the city of Springfield probably got hit the hardest in terms of livelihood and being able to work, so we knew that staying home from some jobs simply wasn’t an option for some people. So it was all-consuming; I lived COVID-19 education every day, and I continue to do that.”

The seriousness of the virus was one issue, Caulton-Harris went on, adding that the degree of difficulty in coping with the situation was compounded by information from state and federal agencies that was often lacking, inconsistent, and at times quite confusing.

“In the early part of the pandemic, we were told that masks were not necessary, and then we were told we needed to mask up,” she recalled. “We did not have vaccines, so education and working with the public became critical. It was my lived public-health experience that enabled me to take on the pandemic. I did not believe it was going to go on for two and half years — we’re still dealing with the pandemic today. Early on, we thought it might be a month or two, but it continues to be a pervasive virus that we’re dealing with.”

As she noted, the COVID experience, if you will, has generated improvement in how those involved in matters of public health communicate, collaborate, and work together to serve the community.

As an example, she cited the work of a collective that came to be known as the ‘VAX FORCE.’

“This was a combination of physicians, community members, researchers … there were 15 individuals who were appointed by Mayor Sarno to be part of this VAX FORCE,” she recalled. “We met to put strategies in place to be able to work with the public, and that manifested itself in vaccination clinics that we had in the North End, the South End, Mason Square, Indian Orchard, and other neighborhoods. We were very intentional about the fact that we had to meet people where they were, and we used all of the expertise of the individuals on the VAX FORCE to come up with a strategy to market and make sure we were hitting all the various communities that we needed to hit.

“That, to me, was a very important strategy, and one that we put together in a way that was different than what we would have done had we not experienced the pandemic,” she went on, adding that this will be the blueprint for how to do things moving forward.

 

The Next Chapter

When asked what might come next for her as she nears retirement age, Caulton-Harris opted to borrow some words used recently by tennis star Serena Williams, who eschewed the term ‘retirement,’ and instead said that she will be ‘transitioning,’ or ‘evolving.’

Caulton-Harris said she will likely be doing some of the same, noting she is working on a book, a personal history of sorts, that she started maybe a decade ago.

“It’s going to be about the journey that I’ve had, from the public-health perspective, but also the personal side,” she said. “I think it’s important to be able to talk about the experiences and let people know the human side of who we are.”

Some would say she’s already written the book, the one about how to be a true leader in public health and make a difference in the community. The one about how to be a Healthcare Hero.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Chamber Corners

1BERKSHIRE

(413) 499-1600; 1berkshire.com

 

Sept. 20: Virtual Dulye Leadership Experience Workshop: “Demystify Digital Currency,” 5-6 p.m. With its dramatic swings, the world of cryptocurrencies, digital assets, and blockchains has been volatile and perplexing. Sort through the confusion with nationally recognized experts Paul Farella and Alexandra Renders of Berkshire-based Willow Investments, who will provide a balanced take on the current landscape, how it works, and where they see digital currency heading. This interactive program features a question-and-answer exchange with the speakers. Register for this virtual event at 1berkshirestrategicalliancemacoc.weblinkconnect.com/events.

 

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 253-0700; amherstarea.com

 

Sept. 8: Amherst Area Internship Fair, 12-2 p.m., hosted by UMass Amherst, Goodell Bernie Dallas Room. Is your business looking for an intern? Meet with UMass students from all majors who can support you in a variety of areas: communications and marketing, data, analytics, statistics, research, technology, security, websites, databases, creative arts, design, finance and accounting, writing, editing, content management, sales, lead creation, database cleanup, metrics evaluation, lab and environmental data collection, and/or analysis. For more information, visit amherstarea.com.

 

Sept. 14: Grillin’ & Chillin’ Under the Pavillion, 4:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Summit View Banquet. Join us for a multi-chamber event with the Amherst Area, Greater Holyoke, Greater Chicopee, and South Hadley Granby chambers of commerce at Summit View Banquet and Pavilion with a BBQ buffet, games, a photo booth, door prizes, and featuring DJ Jay Entertainment, Totally Hitched Photo Booth Camper, and Loophole and Leadfoot breweries. Sponsored by Keiter, Polish National Credit Union, Superior Plus Energy Services, Holyoke Gas & Electric, and the Plan. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Register at amherstarea.com.

 

BRADLEY REGIONAL CHAMBER

(860) 653-3833; bradleyregionalchamber.org

 

Sept. 21: Bradley Regional Chamber of Commerce Lunch & Learn, 12-1 p.m., hosted by Bobby V’s in Windsor Locks, Conn. Join us as Wayne Lerario, vice president of Sales at Nutmeg Technologies, helps chamber members answer the question, do you have the right tech company for your business? We all rely on technology for our businesses, both for our staff and our customers. Lerario will help us consider the benefits of choosing the right IT partner as he talks about the many important things to consider with this critical partnership. Attendees will pay for their own lunch. To register, email Bob Brawders at [email protected].

 

EAST OF THE RIVER FIVE TOWN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 575-7230; www.erc5.com

 

Sept. 7: Coffee Hour Connections with ERC5, 8:30-9:30 a.m., hosted by the Yoga Shop, 185 Miller St., Ludlow. Grab a coffee, energize, and flow into a morning of connecting with colleagues and growing your brand. Sponsored by Community Bank. Register online at www.erc5.com.

 

Sept. 23: 20th Annual Golf Classic, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., hosted by Country Club of Wilbraham. Throughout the day, there will be food, raffles, awards, contests of skill, networking, and spirited competition. To purchase a sponsorship or register for the Classic, visit bit.ly/ERC520thGolfClassic.

 

FRANKLIN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 773-5463; franklincc.org

 

Sept. 23: Chamber Breakfast, 7:30 a.m., hosted by Franklin County Tech School, in the gymnasium, located at 82 Industrial Blvd. in the Turners Falls Industrial Park. Our first breakfast of the season will be the United Way of Franklin and Hampshire Region campaign kickoff. Cost: $20 for members, $22 general admission. Register at franklincc.org.

 

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 594-2101; chicopeechamber.org

 

Sept. 14: Grillin’ & Chillin’ Under the Pavillion, 4:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Summit View Banquet. Join us for a multi-chamber event with the Amherst Area, Greater Holyoke, Greater Chicopee, and South Hadley Granby chambers of commerce at Summit View Banquet and Pavilion with a BBQ buffet, games, a photo booth, door prizes, and featuring DJ Jay Entertainment, Totally Hitched Photo Booth Camper, and Loophole and Leadfoot breweries. Sponsored by Keiter, Polish National Credit Union, Superior Plus Energy Services, Holyoke Gas & Electric, and the Plan. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Register at chicopeechamber.org.

 

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 534-3376; holyokechamber.com

 

Sept. 12: 2022 Chamber Cup Golf Tournament, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., hosted by Wyckoff Country Club, Holyoke. Mingle and network, win prizes, make new connections, and enjoy a fun day of golf. Each registration includes lunch, golf, and dinner for four people, and a chance to win prizes. On-course activities include beer and spirit tastings; hole-in-one contests for a car, an all-expenses-paid vacation, and an alcohol-filled YETI cooler; a long-drive contest; and food tastings from local restaurants. Inside are silent auctions on one-of-a-kind sports prizes, with a memorabilia auction before dinner. The dinner will be open to membership and the public and will include a brief annual meeting and the awards ceremony, Register at business.holyokechamber.com/events or by calling (413) 534-3376.

 

Sept. 14: Grillin’ & Chillin’ Under the Pavillion, 4:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Summit View Banquet. Join us for a multi-chamber event with the Amherst Area, Greater Holyoke, Greater Chicopee, and South Hadley Granby chambers of commerce at Summit View Banquet and Pavilion with a BBQ buffet, games, a photo booth, door prizes, and featuring DJ Jay Entertainment, Totally Hitched Photo Booth Camper, and Loophole and Leadfoot breweries. Sponsored by Keiter, Polish National Credit Union, Superior Plus Energy Services, Holyoke Gas & Electric, and the Plan. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Register at business.holyokechamber.com/events or call (413) 534-3376.

 

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 584-1900; northamptonchamber.com

 

Sept. 14: [email protected] Networking Event, hosted by the Academy of Music, Northampton. Connect with community and the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce at the next [email protected] Sponsored by United Way of Franklin and Hampshire Region, Kuhn Riddle Architects, and Hampshire Hearing and Speech Services. For more information, visit northamptonchamber.com.

 

Sept. 23: netWORK at ServiceNet’s Prospect Meadow Farm, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Join us for our netWORK series, where we partner with a local nonprofit and invite our Greater Northampton Chamber community to participate in a project to benefit that organization. For this netWORK event, we’ll team up with ServiceNet’s Prospect Meadow Farm, the first therapeutic farming community in the Pioneer Valley, providing meaningful agricultural employment for people with developmental disabilities, autism, or mental-health challenges. Volunteer work for the day will be broken up into two shifts, and tasks will include field work (weeding and harvesting), mushroom work, and animal work. Volunteers should arrive dressed for farm work, with appropriate clothes and shoes. For more information, visit northamptonchamber.com.

 

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 568-1618; westfieldbiz.org

 

Sept. 14: After 5 Connections, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Results in Wellness LLC at 93 Springfield Road, Suite B, Westfield. Join us again or for the first time to discuss the concerns you may have as a business owner and how we may help each other through these challenging times. You will meet fellow business people from this community, exchange business cards, and discuss what’s happening in your business. Cost: free to chamber members; $5 for non-members. For more information, visit westfieldbiz.org.

 

Sept. 22: September Breakfast, 7-9 a.m., hosted by 104th Fighter Wing, 175 Falcon Dr., Westfield. This is one of our most popular events. Platinum sponsor is Baystate Health. Silver sponsors include A Plus HVAC and ProAmpac. Bronze sponsors include Westfield Public Schools, Armbrook Village, Fly Lugu, Northeast Paving, and BHN/Carson Center. Coffee-bar sponsor is the Westfield Starfires. Cost: $35 to chamber members; $40 for the general public. For more information, visit westfieldbiz.org.

 

Sept. 29: Morning Brew, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Shaker Farms Country Club, Westfield. Introduce your business to the group and take advantage of this networking opportunity. Cost: free. For more information, visit westfieldbiz.org.

 

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 532-6451; shgchamber.com

 

Sept. 14: Grillin’ & Chillin’ Under the Pavillion, 4:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Summit View Banquet. Join us for a multi-chamber event with the Amherst Area, Greater Holyoke, Greater Chicopee, and South Hadley Granby chambers of commerce at Summit View Banquet and Pavilion with a BBQ buffet, games, a photo booth, door prizes, and featuring DJ Jay Entertainment, Totally Hitched Photo Booth Camper, and Loophole and Leadfoot breweries. Sponsored by Keiter, Polish National Credit Union, Superior Plus Energy Services, Holyoke Gas & Electric, and the Plan. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Register at shgchamber.com.

 

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

(413) 426-3880; www.ourwrc.com

 

Sept. 8: Job Fair 2022, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Storrowton Tavern/Carriage House, West Springfield. West Springfield and Agawam businesses, along with other employment opportunities from around Western Mass., will be showcased for the public. High-school students, college students, and adults will be attending this event looking to begin or advance their careers. This event is free and open to the public. To be a participating vendor, register online: at www.ourwrc.com.

 

Sept. 13: September Social & Celebrity Cornhole Tournament, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Trinity Pub/Irish Cultural Center of New England, West Springfield. Join us for a night of networking as you cheer on the mayors, state senator, state representatives, and police and fire chiefs as they battle it out to be the cornhole champs of 2022. Sponsorship opportunities are available. To register to attend or sponsor, visit www.ourwrc.com.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest 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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 127: August 29, 2022

George Interviews Jeff Daley, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp.

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Jeff Daley, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp. about the agency’s most ambitious, project to date, redevelopment of the massive Ludlow Mills complex. Daley recounts the latest developments and talks about how the project has turned a critical corner. It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest  and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

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Guide to Senior Planning Special Coverage Special Publications

Preparing for Life After 65

When people think about strategizing for their senior years, they often see it as a downbeat task, one marked by growing incapacity, financial stress, and, well, dying.

That’s not what this guide is about, although it definitely contains plenty of information about what to do before that day comes. But the goal isn’t planning to die; it’s making sure you get all your plans in order — from where you or your loved ones will live to how finances will be distributed — so you don’t have to worry about it. You can, instead, enjoy life.

 

And that planning is an increasingly important task. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans age 65 and older rose from 35 million in 2000 — 12% of the population — to 56.1 million, or 17%. By 2030, the bureau estimates, more than 21% of U.S. residents, about 73.1 million, will have passed their 65th birthdays.

That’s a lot of people. And a lot of planning. And a lot of living left to enjoy.

Achieving your goals — and your desires for your loved ones — requires careful thought, and that’s where our annual Senior Planning Guide comes in. So let’s sort through some of the confusion and get those conversations — and the rest of your life — started.

 

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest 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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 125: August 15, 2022

George Interviews Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The two discuss everything from the city’s new parking garage, to COVID-relief efforts, to a number of new developments — in the city’s downtown and its many neighborhoods. It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest  and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

Also Available On

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest 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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 124: August 8, 2022

George Interviews Lisa Ekus, founder and partner with the Ekus Group in Hatfield

On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Lisa Ekus, founder and partner with the Ekus Group in Hatfield, which likes to say it’s in the business of “creating culinary celebrities.” The two discuss everything from the massive, and still growing, business of food, to her 8,000-volume library of cookbooks and what it takes to become part of that collection. It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest  and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

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Cover Story

High Flight

Nate Costa with the AHL’s Eastern Conference Championship trophy

Nate Costa with the AHL’s Eastern Conference Championship trophy and his AHL Finals jersey.

The Springfield Thunderbirds soared to new heights during the 2021-22 season, making the playoffs for the first time in their existence and taking Springfield to the championship round of the playoffs for the first time in three decades. As the franchise enters what will be an abbreviated offseason, it does so with momentum and a championship-caliber team to sell to a more engaged fan base, and management is laser-focused on taking full advantage of this opportunity.

Within the pantheon of ‘good problems to have,’ specifically in the world of professional sports, it doesn’t get much better than this. Although, yes, it does get a little better.

Indeed, after a lengthy playoff run that took the team to within a few wins of a Calder Cup, the Springfield Thunderbirds are looking at a short offseason — as in two full months shorter than the norm.

That’s a problem, said team President Nate Costa, because there’s a lot to do before the 2022-23 season starts, from season-ticket sales to scheduling promotions to lining up special guests and programs. But it’s a good problem, obviously, because of everything that happened during those aforementioned two months and what they mean to this franchise, and this brand, moving forward.

What happened, said Costa, is that the Thunderbirds, the franchise that brought pro hockey back to Springfield in 2016 after a brief time without a team, became “the talk of the town” during that playoff run. Elaborating, he told BusinessWest that the team took a huge leap forward in terms of visibility, prominence, and, yes, relevance. It always had a core of solid fans, but it hadn’t truly arrived. Until this spring.

“It all came to fruition when the playoff run happened,” he told BusinessWest. “All the stuff we thought could happen — that we would be the talk of the town, that we could be the focal point of downtown Springfield … it all came together. And now, it’s about trying to capture some of that momentum and keep things moving.”

The team took this huge step forward in large part because the team seized a huge opportunity during the playoffs to capitalize on the 11 extra games and the excitement generated with each passing round by promoting the brand in every way imaginable, from ceremonial posters and rally towels handed out at the home games to extensive social-media coverage of the team’s run to the Eastern Conference title and the brink of a Calder Cup.

The challenge — and huge opportunity — moving forward, as Costa said, is to build off this hard-earned momentum, and this is what management will be doing in this abbreviated offseason.

Thunderbirds

The extended playoff run gives the Thunderbirds a short offseason, but in the larger scheme of things, that’s a good problem to have.

“All the positives around the business now, and all the stuff that comes from having a nice run like this is … huge, and it’s something we’ve never had before — we’ve never even made the playoffs before in my time with the Thunderbirds,” he noted. “We’re in a good position to take advantage because we’ve laid a really solid foundation that we can build on.”

Looking back on a memorable season, one that earned the T-Birds Team of the Year honors (the President’s Award) from the AHL, Costa said it happened because many pieces fell in place and because all the various players — from the local ownership group that provided the needed resources to a parent team, the St. Louis Blues, that “understands the value of winning at this level,” as he put it, to the players and management — did their respective jobs.

Overall, he said the deep playoff run was and is validation of everything that management and ownership have done to not only bring hockey back to Springfield but to generate interest in hockey and build a successful brand.

“It all came to fruition when the playoff run happened. All the stuff we thought could happen — that we would be the talk of the town, that we could be the focal point of downtown Springfield … it all came together. And now, it’s about trying to capture some of that momentum and keep things moving.”

“It’s been a huge validation, not only for me personally, but for the owners, who stepped up for the city, made a big investment, and did it the right way,” he said. “To be able to get the Eastern Conference championship and do something that hadn’t been done in 30 years … that’s pretty special.

“Getting to the playoffs is really important to the development of these players; these guys are getting extra games, they’re getting extra high-pressure games … that all means a lot to development,” he added. “The really cool thing is that there is lot of continuity between last year’s team and this year’s team, which is a testament to the Blues — they’re bringing back a lot of guys.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Costa about the season — and postseason — that was, how the team made the most of that unique opportunity, and how it intends to build on all that was gained during the 2022-23 season and beyond.

 

Banner Year

One of the many items on the to-do list for Costa and his team this offseason is to order a ‘2022 Eastern Conference Champions’ banner to hang in the rafters at the soon-to-be-renamed MassMutual Center.

Costa said research revealed the name of a company in Waltham that makes such banners for a number of professional sports teams, and preliminary talks with that outfit will commence soon.

Thunderbirds fared well

While the playoffs are not a ticket to guaranteed financial success, the Thunderbirds fared well, selling out each of its three games in the Finals.

“We want to do it right — to go the company that does this for everyone,” he said. “I want to get their input — I want to get some direction on how to design this the right way, because it’s going to live in our rafters for a long time.”

Finding a company to make a banner for the rafters was about the last thing on anyone’s mind during a very challenging start to the 2021-22 season, said Costa, adding that this past year was a stern test on many different levels.

For starters, the team was starting up again after deciding not to play during the 2020-21 season, when COVID was at its height and the AHL was playing a shorter schedule with a host of restrictions and, for the most part, no fans. This meant assembling a team of employees (with many returnees from before COVID) and re-engaging with a fan base.

But mostly, it meant dealing with a pandemic that kept coming in waves and was still very much a disruptive force, especially for businesses dependent on bringing large numbers of people together in closed spaces.

“All the positives around the business now, and all the stuff that comes from having a nice run like this is … huge, and it’s something we’ve never had before — we’ve never even made the playoffs before in my time with the Thunderbirds.”

“It’s been a long year,” said Costa, putting heavy emphasis on that word ‘long.’ “We dealt with a lot of ups and downs; there were a lot of challenges. Groups were essentially non-existent because schools weren’t doing anything, and we were living in a real COVID world for half the year. January and February were some dark months where we still wearing masks and there were potential capacity limitations … we were dealing with that all year, and it was a really taxing and challenging environment to work through. It was exhausting.”

While dealing with these challenges, the Thunderbirds, thanks to a solid mix of established veterans and emerging prospects, established themselves as not only a playoff contender (23 of the league’s 31 teams would qualify for postseason play for the 2021-22 season following some changes to the format), but as a frontrunner. Indeed, the team forged its way near the top of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference and stayed there for the bulk of the season.

By the spring, the team’s consistently solid play made a playoff birth likely, and then inevitable, giving Costa and his team a chance to start planning — as much as any organization can plan a playoff run, even with a bye in the first round, which the T-Birds earned by finishing second overall in the Atlantic Division.

Indeed, the playoffs are to be taken one series — and, in many respects, one game — at a time, he said, adding that, while a playoff run can benefit a team’s bottom line, there are many additional expenses, especially travel and logistics, and some challenges when it comes to ticket sales, including the loss of all-important group sales.

playoff experience different

Nate Costa says one of the team’s goals was to make the playoff experience different for the fans and the players, with rally towels and banners like this one.

“Every series is like a mini-season, the way we market it and the way you go through the process, because you don’t know what’s going to happen; it’s all dependent on your performance on the ice. At the beginning of the run, we wanted it to make it feel different and feel separate from the regular season, and so, from a marketing perspective, we put together an entire campaign around the playoffs,” Costa explained, including a hashtag slogan — Fly, Fight, Win! — that was a nod to the Air Force. “It was completely different from what our regular-season marketing campaign was.”

 

Winning Formula

Such marketing efforts included everything from lawn signs to new signage around the arena to stickers placed in the windows of downtown businesses, as well as that hashtag. They were a necessary expense, but ones with a very uncertain ROI.

“You can do all that planning and do all those things, and then get knocked out in the first round,” Costa explained. “We were really fortunate that we got to go all the way to the end, but every round you have to redo the schedule, get tickets up on sale, set the pricing on tickets, get the tickets sold, getting marketing in place and buying the advertising — and it all happens within a week.”

“The other blessing about going so late into the playoffs is that it’s only three months from the end of our year to the start of the new year. I think there’s still going to be a lot of pent-up excitement, especially with the number of guys we have coming back and the continuity with raising the banner and all that.”

And there are no guarantees that a playoff run will be a financial success, he said, noting that some teams in the playoffs — including the Chicago Wolves, who triumphed over the T-Birds in the Calder Cup Finals in five games — played before crowds that were far from sellouts, and one of the playoff teams from the Western Conference, Stockton, was averaging just over 1,000 per game.

“At this level, though tickets were in demand, you still have to grind, and you still have to have relationships with people in the region to try to move tickets,” Costa said. “And if you’re not prepared to do that at this level, you’re not going to succeed.

“The first two rounds are really challenging, and teams traditionally break even or lose,” he explained. “But you maximize those opportunities to build momentum for future rounds, if you can get there, and that’s what we did.”

Overall, the Thunderbirds did well with playoff ticket sales, he went on, noting that each of the three Finals games hosted in Springfield was a sellout (6,793 seats), and the earlier rounds averaged more than 5,000, with some games coming on weekdays and even Mondays.

Eastern Conference Champions’ hat.

There are many benefits to an extended playoff run, including merchandise, such as this ‘Eastern Conference Champions’ hat.

But beyond ticket sales, Costa said he saw the playoffs as an opportunity to build the Thunderbirds brand, and he invested heavily in many different initiatives.

For starters, he made sure all three of the team’s media members went to every playoff series to cover the Thunderbirds for social media.

“From the beginning, I wanted to feel like a pro hockey team, and that means getting photography, video, and social media on the road,” he said. “That’s what separates us from a lot of AHL teams; not many teams in this league are willing to invest in this stuff. But I think it’s important for perception of the brand.

“If you can do the little things like that, if you can let the players feel like real pros, then the fans, by extension, the people who are following your brand, can also feel that, and that gives you a lot to sell,” he went on. “The playoffs, to me, was all about maximizing the opportunity.”

 

Setting Sale

As he talked with BusinessWest, Costa was wearing a ‘Calder Cup Finals’ pullover. At one point in the proceedings, he paused to show off the AHL’s Eastern Conference Championship trophy, named for former AHL President Richard Canning.

These are just a few of the symbolic ways in which he and his team are still living in the moment, if you will.

But in most other ways, the team is putting its deep playoff run behind it and moving onto next season. Indeed, Costa made a point of referring to the 2021-22 campaign as ‘last season,’ and to 2022-23 as ‘this season.’

Which brought him back to the ‘good problem to have’ he mentioned at the top.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he said of the shortened offseason, noting that it’s too short for everyone involved — players, many of whom will be back with the team, as well as coaches and administrators.

But from a business perspective, and most all other perspectives, it certainly beats the alternative — another season with no playoffs.

“I’m going to take the playoff run and everything that came with it over a longer offseason,” he said, adding quickly that some, but not all, of the page-turning work that comes after a year’s final game is over had to wait until the playoff run ended.

The mission now is to make up for that lost time, and Costa and his team are now forging ahead with the plans for 2022-23. The schedule has been officially released, which means the team can now start slotting in everything from annual events to who will sing the national anthem at each game.

And, as he mentioned, there is momentum to build on, and it is already showing up in season-ticket sales; by mid-July, the team had more than 1,150 season tickets sold for the coming season, a jump of nearly 100 from last year, with more than 200 still to renew and a projected 80% of those coming back. That means the team is looking at perhaps a 30% increase in season-ticket volume.

And that should be just one area of growth, he said, adding that, overall, a short offseason isn’t beneficial only because of what it means about last season.

“The other blessing about going so late into the playoffs is that it’s only three months from the end of our year to the start of the new year,” Costa explained. “I think there’s still going to be a lot of pent-up excitement, especially with the number of guys we have coming back and the continuity with raising the banner and all that.

“Early on in the year is typically really hard for us,” he went on, adding that the team is competing with pro and college football and other sports as well. “But coming out of this, I think we’re going to have a lot of momentum. We don’t really hit our stride typically on the business side with big crowds until December, when people really start to turn the page and think hockey. This will help us early in the season; we’re going to come out of the gates strong.”

As the team continues its budgeting for the coming year, it will be aggressive as it sets goals for ticket sales and revenue because of last year’s success, Costa said, but it will also look for new areas in which to grow and improve, on both the revenue and expense sides.

“It’s just the maturation of the business,” he explained. “We’re in a healthy place now, and it’s all about how we take advantage of our momentum. When we took this over, it was obviously exciting, but there wasn’t a ton of value built up in the brand, and now we’ve gotten to the point where we have some value built into the brand, and we have to take advantage of that.

“Now, we have a winning team to talk about and a championship-caliber team,” he went on. “And that just adds to everything that we’re doing, and it makes our job easier.”

 

Soar Subject

Summing up the playoff run that was, from both a personal and professional perspective, Costa said it was, in a word, “special.”

“It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my career,” he said, noting that the team won the Eastern Conference title exactly six years from the day the new franchise was announced. “I’ve been in pro sports for more than 15 years now and had never gotten to that point — it was fulfilling on many levels.

“And that’s one of the things I hammered home with our staff. I said, ‘I know it’s exhausting, and I know we’re working extra games, but this doesn’t happen every year,’” he went on, adding that, when it does happen, a team has to take full advantage of the moment — and the momentum created by that moment.

And he and his team are fully committed to doing just that.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Special Coverage Technology

The Future Is Here

It’s striking to think that many young professionals entering the workforce today have never known a world without high-tech devices, many designed to be used on the go, that address every possible work and leisure need. And those devices have only become more powerful over time, with a wider array of options and price points. In its annual look at some of the most intriguing devices available, BusinessWest dives into what the tech press is saying about some of 2022’s hottest products for the home or … well, anywhere else.

 

Connecting and Computing

Among this year’s crop of smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra ($1,199) has been getting plenty of raves. In fact, Spy calls it “the first true flagship phone to beat for 2022.” The site praises Samsung for bringing back the S Pen stylus, a popular feature with Samsung’s Galaxy Note series. “It’s also a beast when it comes to capturing photos and videos with its quadruple camera system, offering excellent image quality and low-light performance. You’ll have plenty of versatility with this package because you can get very close with its 100x space zoom telephoto lens.”

 

You’ll find no shortage of love for Apple’s newest models as well, the iPhone 13 Pro ($999) and 13 Pro Max ($1,099), which, boast the best cameras and battery life of any iPhone to date, CNET notes, as well as high-end features like the ability to record ProRes videos. “By packing the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max with features many of us have wanted for years, including a display with a high refresh rate, Apple further defined the difference between its Pro and non-Pro phones. Three years ago, by comparison, the word Pro seemed more of a marketing term than an indication that the phone was any more professional than a regular iPhone.”

 

In the laptop world, the Dell XPS 13 Plus (starting at $1,449) “is a sleek computer that’s built around the latest and most powerful Intel Core processors,” Business Insider notes. “In lieu of click buttons, it uses a seamless glass touchpad surface and replaces the function keys with a top row of touch-sensitive function buttons.” In addition, Dell’s updated RapidCharge Express 2.0 technology can charge the battery up to 80% in under an hour. “Innovations like this,” the publication noted, “can benefit users and keep Dell ahead of rivals.”

 

Among today’s monitors, BBC Science Focus raves about the Samsung M8 smart monitor ($579). “With an affordable price tag, and an overkill of connection options, the Samsung M8 could be the perfect monitor for a lot of people. It doubles up as a TV and monitor, offering smart TV with Netflix, YouTube, and most streaming platforms, as well as connection options for most laptops, AirPlay for Apple products, and even DEX to connect your Samsung smartphone as a computer. Not enough? It also has built-in speakers, a 4K display and an added webcam.”

 

Need to keep your devices charged in the car? The Baseus USB-C Car Charger ($19) is an inexpensive device with a 65-watt USB-C port that can power up most laptops, according to bestproducts.com. A USB-A charging connector with a maximum power output of 18 watts is also included. “The product has a sleek design with translucent housing, a built-in voltage display, and onboard illumination. It has built-in tech to protect the connected devices from overcharging and overheating.”

 

That’s Entertainment

There’s no doubt that the explosion of entertainment choices we can stream on dozens of services has transformed the way we watch TV. At the same time, smart TVs have grown larger and less expensive over the past few decades. Among today’s models, Esquire praises the LG Electronics C1 65-inch OLED HDTV ($1,379). “With a beautiful picture and a sleek, stylish design, LG’s OLED TV is one of the best on the market. Plus, it can connect to Amazon Alexa devices so your whole house is hooked up.”

 

Most TVs aren’t built to survive the elements, but the SunBriteTV Veranda Series 3 ($2,899) is specifically designed for the outdoors. “In addition, it offers a few key advantages over previous Veranda models, including a brighter and much more colorful picture with support for Dolby Vision, as well as a full suite of Android TV features such as streaming media services, Google Assistant voice control, and the ability to mirror your phone,” PC Magazine notes, adding that, while the price tag is high, “you’re paying a premium for a TV you can use outside without worry.”

 

Gamers have more options than ever before as well, but for many, PlayStation still reigns supreme. Calling it “the best plug-and-play gaming platform available,” Digital Trends says the PlayStation 5 ($499), boasts “lightning-fast load speeds, a new controller, and a phenomenal lineup of launch titles (including fan favorites and new exclusives).” In fact, the magazine noted that the PS5 not only easily bests the Xbox when it comes to game selection, Sony has now brought backward compatibility into the fold, so the PS5 will be able to play most PS4 games. “The PS5 simply has the best game library out there right now.”

 

Speaking of new ways to play, “virtual reality might take its time to have its ‘iPhone moment,’ but it is still very much the next big thing for the coolest gadgets,” Spy notes, and no VR device flashes that promise more than the Meta Quest 2 ($299). Without the need for a powerful computer or special equipment, users can simply strap the Quest 2 (formerly Oculus) to their head, pick up the controllers, and move freely in VR space, thanks to its inside-out technology, which uses cameras placed outside the headset to track the users’ movement in the space around them.

 

Then there’s the Samsung Freestyle ($799), a new portable entertainment device that combines a projector and smart speaker into one compact package. It supports 1080p projection at up to 100 inches, offers access to a wide variety of streaming apps, and delivers 360-degree sound with built-in Alexa voice control. “The Freestyle stands out from other compact projectors thanks to its rotating cradle that makes it look like a portable spotlight,” Business Insider notes. “It also has automatic picture adjustments that could make it a breeze to set up virtually anywhere. It can even plug into an overhead light socket so you can project onto the floor or a table.”

 

Life on the Go

Smartwatches are all the rage, and the Apple Watch Series 7 ($329) ranks highly across most rating sites. With a bigger case and a larger screen than its predecessor, “the product also has best-in-class health-, fitness-, and wellness-tracking capabilities, powered by accurate heart-rate and blood-oxygen sensors, according to bestproducts.com. Apple offers the Series 7 with a 41- or a 45-millimeter case in a multitude of finishes, optional cellular network connectivity is available, and wearers can customize the timepiece with a wide selection of bands. “New year, new Apple watch,” Esquire adds. “The 20% larger screen makes all the difference.”

 

In the category of hybrid smartwatch, which combines connectivity with traditional watch mechanics, bestproducts.com chooses the Everett Hybrid Smartwatch ($179), calling it a feature-packed device with a built-in, always-on display and heart-rate sensor. “We like that, instead of looking like a tech product, it resembles a classic chronograph timepiece with mechanical hands and a three-button layout.” The stainless-steel timepiece is waterproof up to 30 meters, and it is available in several finishes, with an easy-to-replace band or bracelet.

 

Need a pair of quality headphones and don’t want to splurge on Apple AirPods? Then the clunkily named but sleekly built Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399) may be the way to go, BBC Science Focus notes. “These, like their predecessors, are some of the best headphones around. In terms of specs and audio, these are extremely similar to Sony’s renditions from before. They offer market-leading audio across the lows, mids, and highs, excellent noise cancellation, and you get an array of smart ambient features.” The site also praises the lighter, more minimalist design.

 

In the market for a drone? “Every year,” BBC Science Focus notes, “the DJI’s Mini series gets smaller and yet more powerful, cramming high-end specs into a lightweight drone that you can chuck in your bag. But with all those improvements comes an eye-watering price, and an increasing fear for your financial status if you crash it.” The DJI Mini 3 Pro ($759) offers advanced obstacle avoidance features, a rotating lens to film in portrait or landscape, 4K video, smart flying features like automatic tracking, and the ability to follow a subject, the site notes. “Despite its higher price, this feels like the perfect drone for beginners, those who like to travel, or really anyone in the market for a lightweight, high-tech drone.”

 

At the end of an active day, why not wind down by grilling dinner — wherever you are? The BioLite FirePit+ ($249) is a small, efficient fire pit that burns charcoal and wood. More than 50 air jets deliver oxygen to the fire for a uniform temperature and reduced smoke, while a rechargeable battery runs a built-in fan for controlling the fire up to 30 hours, according to PC Magazine. “You can cook on top of the included grill grate for direct contact with the flames or pick up a cast-iron griddle accessory. Bluetooth lets you control the flame intensity and fan speed with your phone, for a smart grilling experience no matter where you are.”

 

Around the House

Home security systems are nothing new, but if you’re looking for an extra layer of security, the Ring Glass Break Sensor ($40 for one, $70 for two) can detect break-in attempts through glass windows and doors from up to 25 feet away, Wired notes. Users will need a Ring Alarm or Ring Alarm Pro to use it, and the sensor can be configured the sensor to trigger a siren when it detects broken glass.

 

Sometimes home security means being prepared when the power goes down. The Anker 757 PowerHouse generator ($1,399) is powered by a lithium iron phosphate battery, which is the same type of battery used to power various electric vehicles, and “it’s a beast,” Gear Patrol notes. “Its multiple ports and outlets allow will allow you to simultaneously charge various gadgets, including your laptop, smartphone, and tablets, as well as power larger appliances like a refrigerator, a TV, or multiple outdoor lights.”

 

Air purification is a different kind of home safety product, and Gear Patrol touts the Wyze Air Purifier ($135), which can be purchased with one of three different filters, among the best on the market. “The air purifier works with the Wyze app, and, once set up, it can send you real-time status updates and alert you as to when it needs cleaning.” According to the company, each purifier is capable of cleaning 500-square-foot room more than three times an hour.

 

Wired has some ideas for making life easier as a pet owner, like the Smarty Pear Leo’s Loo Too Litter Box ($600). “Veterinarians say automatic litter boxes, while convenient, make it tough for owners to keep tabs on their cat’s bathroom trips — which can be useful for flagging any potential illnesses. The Leo’s Loo Too solves this with a built-in sensor that tracks how often your cat goes, along with its weight, and syncs the data to a companion app on your phone.” The device comes with additional features like UV sterilization and radar to keep the box from self-cleaning while the cat is nearby.

 

Speaking of animals, Wired also recommends the Bird Buddy Bird Feeder ($200), which “gives new meaning to bird watching. Not only does this cute little home feed birds, but its battery-powered camera offers a live feed via the connected app. If that’s not entertaining enough, it’ll snap photos of said birds, identify the species, and present a ton of facts about each one.”

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.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 120: July 11, 2022

George talks with Peter Picknelly, chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines and president of OPAL Development

Peter Picknelly says fuel prices affect more than the transportation sector he works in

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Peter Picknelly, chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines and president of OPAL Development. The two discuss everything from the price of diesel fuel to the housing project taking shape in Court Square. But mostly, they focus on Picknelly’s recently revealed, very ambitious plans for a new courthouse in Springfield, a project he believes will reshape the riverfront in Springfield. It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.