Remember. Honor. Serve.

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Few of us who are old enough to remember Tuesday, September 11, 2001 can forget the clearness of that blue sky morning or the darkness that followed. 

That day and the murder of thousands of people changed the world forever. It led to two wars, thousands of military and civilian casualties (on and off the battlefield) and countless physical and mental wounds. And although I didn’t lose a loved one on September 11th, I will be forever changed by that day and by the loved ones I gained in the wake of that terror and the destruction it left behind. 

I worked for Massachusetts’ Senior Senator, Ted Kennedy, on September 11th and on that day, as always, his focus was on supporting Massachusetts’ families and those most in need. In a quick call as the crisis unfolded, his marching orders were clear – reach the families and tell those targeted by hate crimes that we have their backs. Soon after we hung up from that call, the towers fell. Then our work began in earnest. In the hours, days, weeks and months ahead we worked on little else. The response to September 11th was our job. 

There was constant reaching out to the victims’ families on the 11th itself and the days that followed saying “How can we help? We are here for you.” We developed a tragedy response system that included 38 federal, state, local, and NGO agencies to meet the horrible moment we were in. When the government response wasn’t sufficient, we formed the Mass 9/11 Fund and made sure our families all had the support they needed in that moment and for decades to come.

I was raised to believe that if you have the ability and the opportunity to make a difference, you have an obligation to try.

As a result, my work in the early months after that tragic day were some of the most difficult yet rewarding times in my career. I felt I was helping to make a real difference for people, little did I know they were helping me.

I met so many incredible people in the wake of that horrible day. I watched, and sometimes helped, as they picked up the pieces of their shattered lives and tried to make sense of it all. I have cried with too many of them to mention but all of whom found a way through the tears. 

September 11th has meant many things to me over the past 20 years. Initially it was about helping to support the Massachusetts’ families of the victims of those horrific terrorist attacks. That quickly evolved into helping those families to find a way to remember their loved ones with a memorial service and to honor them with a Garden of Remembrance. But mostly it’s been an opportunity to learn from their strength and purpose, and a chance to remember, honor and serve.

Long before the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act was signed into law making September 11th a “National Day of Service,” Americans and 9/11 families, were using that day, or the tragedy they suffered, as vehicles to make a difference. As a result, September 11th has many legacies. We remember those who once occupied the 2,977 now empty chairs at our holiday tables and with the support of the community, through monuments and memorials and curriculum in our schools, we hope that no one will ever forget them. We honor those lost with named scholarship funds and foundations, through road races and family fun days and by launching nonprofits to help the families of our fallen military heroes and to build schools for girls in Afghanistan.

And we serve. 

So many 9/11 families took their grief and poured it into a foundation on which great acts of love and service to others were built. In fact, I think service itself may very well be the greatest legacy of September 11th because it has the longest lasting effect. If you do something for and with others, you gain so much for yourself and it makes you want to continue to help those who need it. Through service we grow, we learn, we support, we thrive, we build, and we challenge ourselves and create endless possibilities. Through service we give the aftermath of September 11th a purpose and we show those who believe in hate over love, or fear over compassion, that they did not win that day. 

Out of the grief of that day we saw a world united and inspired to embody that bright clear beautiful blue sky and all its potential. So as we stop to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, let us remember all the mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, wives, husbands, friends, colleagues and even strangers we lost that day. Let us honor their memories with great purpose and pride. 

And, yes, let us serve.


Leading Means Vaccine Mandates

COVID cases are once again on the rise. People are getting sick. People are scared. 

Businesses, including hospitals and healthcare providers are returning to all-too-familiar protocols to again try to slow the spread. We’re encouraging those at risk to mask back up, we’re doubling and tripling down on sanitizing measures and continuing to beat the drum about the benefits of vaccinations.

In too many circles, there’s still a debate about vaccine requirements. There shouldn’t be. 

Employers, government agencies, schools should all be mandating vaccines for everyone who is eligible, with very few exceptions.

Is it easy? No. But it shouldn’t be this hard. 

With the case trajectory pointing upward, we cannot afford to get caught in the political tornado that has developed around the vaccine. Rather, we have to push past the noise and look to the clear, demonstrable benefits.

There is no scientific doubt that getting vaccinated saves lives – not just those that receive the vaccine, but those around them who are not able to get the vaccine due to medical conditions. Furthermore, there is little evidence the vaccines themselves are unsafe, as adverse effects from the vaccine have been very low. And even when rare breakthrough cases occur, it is very unlikely a vaccinated person will require hospitalization. 

The vaccines are safe, the vaccines are effective. Trust the science.

And the scientists are telling us that these protections can be undone if we don’t all get vaccinated if we are able to. We are seeing an example of this now with the Delta variant.

It has been widely reported that 97 percent of recent COVID cases are attributed to the unvaccinated. The longer the virus is able to circulate, the more at risk we all become. The most at risk of severe illness are, of course, the unvaccinated but the truth is, we don’t know how unvaccinated children or others might react to future, potentially stronger variants if we allow COVID to linger another year. 

So, it is critical that we do all we can to get our communities, our friends and families, vaccinated.

And that means stronger action, even in the workplace. I have always believed in leading by example. As far back as last fall, long before the COVID 19  vaccine was beginning to be distributed, the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center decided to mandate that staff get the vaccine once it was available to healthcare workers in the first phase. This was to keep both our staff and our patients as safe and healthy as possible. It was also because as a leader in providing community health, it was important for us to set an example to our patients and the communities we serve.

We communicated with our team clearly, repeatedly, honestly and directly. We allowed waivers for those who had medical or religious reasons for not getting the vaccine. But we told those who didn’t that to continue to work with our patients or at our Health Center, they needed to lead by example. 

Nearly 100 percent of our staff is now vaccinated, with just a handful obtaining waivers due to medical or religious reasons. And we had very little opposition to our mandate throughout the process. 

We informed our staff in November 2020 that we would be receiving the Moderna doses. By late December 2020, our staff were getting their first shots and all our eligible employees were vaccinated by the end of February

In all, we’ve had 63 positive COVID cases among our 390 employees. Since February 10, right about the time everyone was fully vaccinated, we have had no new COVID cases among our staff.

This was a tremendous outcome for our frontline workers and all of us who support them. And it tells a powerful story to our patients that everyone who works at our Kennedy Community health, from their providers and clinical team through to all the staff, believe in the vaccine for themselves and for our patients. 

We believe that’s part of why so many of our patients, even those who are harder to reach, are opting to get vaccinated. 

In our health center sites and around the globe, our fight against COVID-19 is far from over. The fact remains, vaccines are the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID 19 and the development of future, potentially more dangerous variants. There are still many out there who have not gotten vaccinated. 

But we have to do our part. That should mean mandating the vaccine to all who are eligible.