Editorial: Monday Shorts: Taxi!

  • Dr. Ruth Potee CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 4/25/2021 4:16:50 PM

Here are some brief thoughts on recent happenings in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

One of the biggest roadblocks to employment in a rural county is transportation. The 101 cities and towns that make up metropolitan Boston boast subways, trains and buses, none of which we have to a practical extent around here, where cars rule.

For want of a car, jobs are lost.

Late-shift workers are especially vulnerable. To address this problem, the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) announced a pilot program funded by the Metro Area Planning Council creating a bridge service to allow late-shift workers time to fix or buy a car and thus become self-sufficient, explained FRTA Assistant Administrator Michael Perreault.

The innovative program offers an Uber-style taxi service for late-shift workers with transportation difficulties.

“We’re sort of the pivot point,” Perreault said, “trying to bring employees and employers (together) and matching them to the transportation provider.”

One such provider is the Greenfield-based American Knight Transportation, a 24/7 taxi service. “We’re (here) 24 hours a day and they’re looking for second and third-shift operators,” said owner Richard Haste. “You can’t get to work if you can’t get a bus, a train,” Haste said. “That’s our job; we get you to work.”

A lot of creative thinking and collaboration went into this program, from the FRTA to the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board, the nonprofit partners that will get the word out to their clients, to the 10 Franklin County employers co-sponsoring the program and the taxi and livery services that have been thrown this pandemic lifeline.

“We’re hoping this is going to prove to be successful,” Perreault said.

This looks like one answer to the intractable problem of providing public transportation in a rural county.

A model for the country

Over the course of seven-plus years, Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Dr. Ruth Potee have gone from being lone voices in the wilderness on the treatment of opium addiction in jails to being role models for the country.

Back in January 2014, Donelan beseeched then-Gov. Deval Patrick to help with an intensifying addiction crisis in Franklin County and North Quabbin region.

“Our small, rural county is being devastated with the scourge of heroin addiction,” Donelan wrote in a letter to Patrick.

Donelan was already considering a Suboxone program for county jail inmates, 80 percent of whom had drug abuse problems. Around the same time, Dr. Ruth Potee was seeing her addiction caseload in her family practice at Valley Medical Center grow.

“The problem here is no different than the South End, than Quincy,” Potee told The Recorder in 2014. “It’s much the same, but we have no resources.”

Both Donelan and Potee were tapped for the nascent Opioid Task Force forming in 2014, where their missions would intersect with groundbreaking results, including the first-in-the-state and one of the first in the nation treatment centers in a house of correction for medically-assisted opioid addiction treatment. Potee would go on to become the jail’s medical director.

Recently, as reported in this paper, Donelan and Potee were the stars at the national Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, sponsored by Georgetown University in Nashville, Tenn., where they shared their journey with professionals in corrections, public health and public safety from across the country.

Donelan and Potee said of their participation that there is a “real desire” around the country to improve addition treatment in jails.

Both would be the first to acknowledge the roles of so many others in this ongoing mission, including the House of Corrections staff and the Opioid Task Force, which Donelan co-chairs with Register of Probate John Merrigan and District Attorney David Sullivan. Thanks to them, Franklin County is saving lives nationally in the fight against opioid addition.

Aarrgghh!

It’s so frustrating to watch as Eastern Massachusetts legislators treat Western Massachusetts like one big, amorphous blob, the latest example being a plan by the Baker administration to consolidate a state-run transportation service that provides access to health care appointments from the current nine-region network to three.

The proposal would cut out our Franklin Regional Transit Authority and shunt its role over to the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, based in Fitchburg. The FRTA was not even allowed to apply to become a subcontractor for a state-run transportation service.

Our legislators — Reps. Natalie Blais, Paul Mark and Susannah Whipps, and Sens. Jo Comerford and Adam Hinds — were quick to throw cold water on this scheme, saying, in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, “The transportation needs of Franklin County residents should remain in local hands — not with a service broker nearly 100 miles away.”

Our legislators said they worried residents would lose their personal touch-point to the system. That’s a legitimate worry and we urge the Baker administration to put a pause on this consolidation and keep FTRA in the loop.


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