Some Favs… Looking Back at 2021

Published on January 3, 2022 in RINewsToday

As an ‘age beat’ journalist for over 40 years, I have penned more than 813 articles covering aging, health care and medical issues. These authored and coauthored pieces have appeared in national, state, and local trade and association publications, dailies, weeklies, and in this weekly column in RINewsToday.com. Some were even republished in my two books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly (2016) and Taking Charge: Volume 2  More Stories on Aging Boldly (2021).

I provide you with a few of my favorite publish weekly commentaries published in 2021 that you may have enjoyed reading. Many of these articles in their entirety and others can be viewed on my author archive  page at rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/.

“Study Takes Look at Decision Making /in Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine,” published on Jan.  25, 2021 in RINewsToday.com. 

With colder weather keeping people indoors and holiday events drawing families together, Rhode Island like other states continue to see a growing transmission of the COVID-19 Delta, and now Omicron variants. The debate of mandating vaccines has expanded into requiring a booster, too. 

This article reported on research findings that suggested ways as to how to increase a person’s likelihood to get vaccinated. Even though researchers didn’t touch on requiring booster shots, the findings should still be relevant in the current debate, as science is showing the waning of the vaccine after many months.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project Survey, a group whose mission is to increase public dialogue on vaccine education, released survey findings that showed the preferred locations to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and which leading information sources are two influences over a person’s decision to get vaccinated.

The study, commissioned by the Washington, DC based Alliance for Aging Research, one of the three nonprofit organizations leading the project, found the majority (51 percent) of respondents ranked their healthcare provider or pharmacist as one of the sources most likely to influence their decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in their healthcare provider’s office.

After healthcare providers and pharmacists, when asked to provide the top two additional sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines that would most influence their decision to get vaccinated, 32 percent of respondents cited nationally recognized health experts, and 30 percent named family and friends. However, older respondents were increasingly more likely (75 percent ages 65 and older) to trust their healthcare provider or pharmacist, followed by 43 percent (ages 65 and older) trusting nationally recognized health experts.

The majority (64 percent) of respondents indicated they would prefer COVID-19 vaccination in their healthcare provider’s office, while 29 percent prefer a pharmacy, 20 percent a drive-thru vaccine clinic, and only 13 percent would like to receive the vaccine at a grocery store or pharmacy.

Additional factors driving the location where respondents would like to receive the vaccine included the ability to get the vaccine quickly or not have to wait in line (45 percent) and a location close to home (41 percent), the study found.

“A Call for House Dems to Bring Back House Aging Committee,” published on Aug. 16, 2021 in RINewsToday.com.

Last Aug, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, along with fellow lawmakers, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Doris Matsui (D-CA), who serve as co-chairs of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families, introduced H. Res. 583 to amend the rules of the House to establish a House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. This is the Rhode Island lawmaker’s fourth attempt, and in the upcoming months he must push for passage by the House Rules Committee.  

H. Res. 583 would reestablish the House Aging Committee without having legislative jurisdiction; this being no different than when the permanent committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as protecting the Social Security and Medicare programs, income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts impacted legislation taken up by standing committees. It has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the best in their retirement,” says Cicilline, in this article. “The pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors and now with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials,” he says, noting there has never been a more urgent time for Congress to reauthorize the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging than right now,” he says. 

At press time, there are just 40 cosponsors of H. Res. 583. Bob Weiner, the former staff director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging under Chairman Claude Pepper (D-FL), warns that to get  the attention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and leadership of the caucus, there should be 100 cosponsors – an obtainable number.

“When Congress gets back from recess, the Rhode Island Congressman must now push for more cosponsors and meetings to get this resolution endorsed by the House Democratic Leadership and the House Rules Committee and then passed on the House Floor”, says Weiner, noting that a GOP takeover of the House after mid-term elections could ensure that this effort will be legislatively blocked unless it has overwhelming support to show a constituent price.  

“It’s now time to stamp out Antisemitism,’ published on Oct. 18, 2021 in RINewstoday.com.  

Throughout 2021, three of my weekly commentaries warned that Antisemitism is alive and well in the United States, Germany, and throughout the world, and called for Rhode Island lawmakers to condemn all acts of hate within Rhode Island’s borders.

The article reported on the alleged charges of Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Israeli singer who lives in Germany, about an alleged anti-Semitic remark made by an employee at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig.

Director of AJC Berlin said, “Marriott should take all necessary steps to ensure that something like this will never happen again. AJC stands ready to help with our expertise and knowledge.”

The article reported that the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) report, revealed that 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in 12 years. The latest FBI’s report, released Aug. 30th, is based on voluntary local law.

This article also reported on the top school administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also provide students with a book from an “opposing” viewpoint, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” quipped one teacher in response to the school administrator, with the school district later apologizing. Last month, the School District approved a change to district policy that prohibits employees from secretly recording video of meetings or work sessions.

The survivors who witnessed the horrors of the Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continue to dwindle in numbers and will soon no longer be here to share their tragic stories. Rhode Island’s Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission, recently created by the General Assembly, is organizing and gears up to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, Gen Z, and other generations. 

“It’s Time to End Suicide by Bridge in Rhode Island,” published on July 26, 2021, in RINewsToday.com.

Last legislative session, Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr.’s (D-Dist. 22), legislative proposal, H-5053, to require safety barriers or netting on the three bridges that connect Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands to the mainland of Rhode Island, never came out of the House Corporations committee.

“Too many people have committed suicide on those bridges in the last decade,” said Rep. Solomon in a statement released when the bill was introduced last January. “Due to technological advances, there are various types of barriers and netting available to increase safety without hindering access for routine inspection and maintenance of the bridges,” he said.

“It’s not only a serious problem, but an alarmingly frequent one,” said Solomon explaining why he introduced his bill, as reported in this article. “Last year alone, the Portsmouth Police responded to the Mount Hope Bridge 36 times. And the cost of suicide goes far beyond the individual. It affects friends, families, first responders, and health care professionals. Those who survive the fall all say the same thing: “they feel instant regret the moment their feet leave the railing,” he said.

This weekly commentary detailed the efforts of forty-year Samaritan volunteer Bryan Ganley and East Bay resident Melissa Cotta, who initiated a petition for safety/suicide prevention barriers to increase awareness of this issue and to show that residents of Rhode Island, as well as the surrounding areas that use our bridges all the time are in support of these barriers.

Ganley and Cotta have submitted a request for funding to the General Assembly’s American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Fund Recommendation Portal. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority also has submitted a request to this portal requesting funding for an engineering study.

Six months ago, 2,630 people signed Cotta and Ganley’s petition. At press time, over 4,062 signatures have been collected calling for new barriers to Rhode Island’s unprotected bridges. To view and sign this petition, go to tinyurl.com/ribridgingthegap.

We can prevent “suicide by bridge”

Published in RINewsToday on July 26, 2021

As the General Assembly goes into recess until the fall, Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) sees H-5053, to require safety barriers or netting on the three bridges that connect Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands to the mainland of Rhode Island, as in hiatus. The bill in House Corporations never came out of committee but that isn’t stopping the House sponsor from working to see the legislative intent fulfilled. 

According to Solomon, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority currently has a number of suicide prevention measures in place, including a smart surveillance system allowing authorities to act quickly, but virtually no way to physically deter a determined jumper. The Rhode Island Samaritans also has signs posted at the bridge entrances with information to access RI’s 911 system for emergencies or The Samaritans one to one hotline, where individuals can speak to someone. 

But determined people do jump, Solomon notes, explaining the need for passage of H-5053.

“Too many people have committed suicide on those bridges in the last decade,” said Representative Solomon in a statement released when the bill was introduced last January. “Due to technological advances, there are various types of barriers and netting available to increase safety without hindering access for routine inspection and maintenance of the bridges,” he said.

“It’s not only a serious problem, but an alarmingly frequent one,” said Solomon explaining why he introduced his bill. “Last year alone, the Portsmouth Police responded to the Mount Hope Bridge 36 times. And the cost of suicide goes far beyond the individual. It affects friends, families, first responders and health care professionals. Those who survive the fall all say the same thing: they feel instant regret the moment their feet leave the railing.”

Sen. Louis P. DiPalma’s (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, Little Compton), companion measure, S-117 met the same fate by not being voted out of the Senate Housing and Municipal Government Committee.  

If the General Assembly had passed these bills during this legislative session, Rhode Island would have taken a leadership position and joined other states such as New York, California and Florida and countries around the world that have moved to put physical safety barriers on the bridges to deter suicides. 

  • Barrier under construction in Florida
  • No barriers in Rhode Island

Raising the Visibility of the Need for Physical Barriers

Melissa Cotta of Tiverton and Bryan Ganley of Bristol founded Bridging the Gap for Safety and Healing. Their Facebook page says its mission is to “raise suicide awareness & prevention, increase cycling & pedestrian safety on our bridges & offer support to all the survivors of those lost including families and loved ones, witnesses, first responders and our entire community. Our top goals include preventing bridge suicides by advocating for restricting easy access to means of suicide in general & installation of bridge safety barriers.”

According to Cotta, who witnessed a suicide from the Mount Hope Bridge, and Ganley, a 40-year Samaritan volunteer and survivor of suicide by loved ones and friends, last year COVID-19 derailed the passage of legislation introduced by Solomon and DiPalma to bring suicide prevention barriers to Rhode Island’s bridges. This year, with legislation reintroduced, they turned to social media and Facebook to urge Rhode Islanders to call for lawmakers to install physical barriers on the state’s unprotected bridges.

“The time is now! Take the means for suicide away!” – they say. We don’t want to lose any more people to these bridges,” referring to suicides on the Jamestown-Verrazzano, Claiborne Pell, Mt. Hope and Sakonnet River Bridges.

Army Corp of Engineers say barriers work on Cape Cod’s Bridges

According to a 1983 memorandum “Information Awards” for the “Installation of Suicide Deterrent Fencing” on the Bourne & Sagamore Highway Bridges at the Cape Cod Canal barriers were installed at the request of The Samaritans of Cape Cod, led by Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens and a driving force in the creation of The Samaritans in Boston, on Cape Cod and in Rhode Island.

According to additional information provided by the Army Corp of Engineers, managers of the Cape Cod Canal and the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges “during a 28-year period after the fencing was installed, between 1984 and 2012, a total of 7 persons committed suicide from the bridges. A far lower rate of incidence than what was recorded for the years before the fencing was installed as part of the major rehabilitation project started in 1979.”

From 2013-April 2021, the Army Corps is aware of “two attempts that were prevented thanks to the quick actions of state and local law enforcement officers. The presence of fencing may not only deter attempts from occurring, but it can also delay an attempt long enough to give law enforcement a chance to successfully respond to an incident when one does occur. “(Note: This is not conclusive information as reports may have gone to state or local police.)

“In RI, from 2009-2018, we know of at least 33 deaths from our bridges and from November 2020 to July 2, 2021, we are aware of at least 8 persons lost from the bridges,” say Cotta and Ganley.  

“Many suicides can’t be predicted or prevented, but suicides from bridges is something we can prevent with the installation of Suicide Prevention Barriers on our state’s three major bridges,” noted Ganley in written testimony to support H 5053. 

Ganley added: “As a Hotline/Listening volunteer, we are trained to first remove the means of suicide.  A bridge with 135’ drop and only a 3’ rail, is like handing a suicidal person a loaded gun.  These bridges are all loaded guns.  We need to take away the gun.”

The Final Push…

With the Rhode Island General Assembly in recess, just days ago ABC 6 reported that Solomon and DiPalma are still seeking ways to fund the installation of barriers on Rhode Island bridges to prevent suicide.  Solomon tells ABC6 in a statement: 

“Although the General Assembly is currently in recess, we are still working behind the scenes with the RI Bridge and Turnpike Authority and the RI Department of Transportation on moving things forward. With one-time federal funding becoming available in the federal infrastructure bill, it is our hope that some of the funding can be allocated to both the design and implementation of suicide prevention barriers or netting. 

Although we are moving in the right direction this is not a time to become complacent. Melissa Cotta and Bryan Ganley have done an outstanding job working on this from day one. They are continuing to raise awareness on this issue and show that it is a priority in Rhode Island. Rhode Island would not be the first state to implement these barriers. Those states that do have barriers show how effective they are. I will continue to push for this legislation with the intent of getting it passed when we reconvene this fall.”

Sign the Petition…

“The petition for safety/suicide prevention barriers is intended to increase awareness of this issue and show residents of Rhode Island, as well as the surrounding areas that use our bridges all the time are in support of these barriers,” says Cotta.

The public’s call for installing safety/suicide prevent barriers has gained a powerful advocate.  House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23, Warwick), states “I admire Representative Solomon’s passion and commitment to this issue. We will continue to work with him.”

At press time, 2,630 have signed Cotta and Ganley’s petition to add barriers to Rhode Island’s unprotected bridges.  They hope to add thousands more to send a message to the Congressional Delegation, the Governor and the General Assembly to act to add physical barriers to Mount Hope, Pell, Jamestown and Sakonnet Bridges. To view and sign this petition, go to tinyurl.com/ribridgingthegap

Suicide emergency? Call 911. Need to Talk? Call The Samaritans of Rhode Island at 401.272.4044 or 1.800.365.4044. Learn more at http://www.samaritansri.org