Al Norman criticizes Baker on elder affairs

  • Al Norman at his Greenfield home. August 1, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Combined Sources
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

GREENFIELD — When Gov. Charlie Baker said in last week’s State of the Commonwealth address, “We commit ourselves to a common decency in our debate and in our dealings with one another and the public,” Al Norman was reminded why he quit last month after 31 years as executive director of Mass. Home Care.

The longtime Greenfield advocate for elder services is one of at least two veteran human services advocates who say they departed their nonprofit jobs last year amid tensions with the administration.

Norman says he resigned because he felt he “couldn’t be effective in this job anymore,” given what he described as a “somewhat subtle campaign of intimidation and retaliation” from the offices of Health and Human Services and Elder Affairs, which he said took issue with his policy critiques.

“I finally realized that I was the flashpoint, that I needed to remove myself from the equation, and so I quit because I felt like I could not diffuse the situation any other way,” Norman told State House News Service.

He said he had been shut out from dealings with the administration after publicly criticizing plans to cut payment rates for Home Care programs, and was criticized by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders for not bringing his critiques directly to her.

Norman said, “They want to improve the status of the governor. My job was to improve the status of the elderly.”

Not by all accounts

The accounts by Norman and Gary Blumenthal, who resigned in October from the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, contrast with those by other advocates who praised Sudders for an approach they said includes transparency and engagement.

Health and Human Services spokeswoman Sharon Torgerson spokeswoman said the secretary has an “open door policy.”

“The secretary enjoys a long-standing relationship with many groups, including Mass. Home Care and the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, and is pleased to have strengthened the commonwealth’s age-friendly initiatives for older adults and increased supports for ... clients and their families.”

Norman said he had a “collision” with Sudders shortly after the Baker administration began in 2015 because he went to the press over potential cuts to elderly services without talking to her first. He thinks that interaction “stayed with” Sudders, and over time, he received “fewer and fewer invitations to dialogue with the administration.”

“Mass. Home Care and Elder Affairs have had clashes in the past because Al is a very strong, vocal advocate, but if there were disagreements, we’d tried to work them out as best as possible,” Mass. Home Care board President Greg Giuliano said. “We’d move on and it was always from the position that we were all in this together, but that seems to have changed.”

Norman said the criticism he’d get was personal and not issue-based. He said he believes it’s key that advocates be able to speak freely to the media and to access information on the programs they deal with.

Although Norman has advocated for the elderly during eight governorships, Democrat and Republican, he said the current “campaign of trying to basically silence me” was unprecedented.

Blumenthal agreed with Norman, saying, “This administration is offended if you question them. All they want to hear is echoes.”