VPR Commentary

Understanding and Reducing Poverty

In Vermont’s early years, poverty was managed by an elected “Overseer of the Poor” until we passed the Social Welfare Act of 1967, which formally relieved communities of responsibility for care of their poor and ended the office of “Overseer.” The last “poor farm” closed in 1968. Growing up in a middle-class family in Lamoille County, I knew people who were poor – though they’d have hardly described themselves that way. Many were grateful for the little they had and took both pleasure and pride in work, family, food, and neighbors. My father ran the small Union Carbide office in Morrisville and was twice offered a whopping raise to move to Manhattan, but declined each time. His life was defined …
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Getting Closer in Vermont…Affordable Health Care for All.

When I was young, Morrisville had three doctors, two dentists and the wood-framed, four-story, Copley Hospital, which had the town’s first elevator. Theoretically, there was competition, but price wasn’t the criteria by which we chose our providers, it was familiarity and trust. All docs pretty much charged the same for an office visit. Our doctor was our trusted friend and on his advice, we went to Burlington for major surgeries or life-threatening illnesses. In the ‘70s, when cities became employment and retail hubs connected by new highways, community hospitals began to compete for patients. Medical technology became a marketing edge but also a major cost-escalator. If Newport got the newest M.R.I., then St Albans wanted it as well. New medical …
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“We have met the enemy and… “

Like many, I wake up each morning and check online news sources for the latest read on the health of our nation. Like the addictive eater I am, I gobble up the latest ethical transgression, human rights abuse, crony favor, or governmental misbehavior. This menu of public service abuses sets the baseline for my thoughts, mood, and conversations for the day and I take satisfaction in thinking how right I am and how wrong so many of my fellow citizens are. It’s like scanning the country’s electronic medical record so I can keep up-to-date on its wellbeing. But then I remember that it’s rarely the acute medical event that ends our lives. The heart attack, accident trauma, or stroke may …
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Burlington College: Politics or Governance?

I’ve been watching the national effort to politicize Burlington College’s demise and am saddened by the venality of our politics and our dangerous ignorance of non-profit governance. It’s endemic in Vermont. Where too many of our major non-profits have limped through a decade or two of un-reviewed leadership performance, mission decay, and disconnection from constituents because their boards have no idea what the obligations and liabilities of board members are or even what board service means. I won’t dwell on the details of Burlington College except to say that the entire fault lies with the Board. It can be said that Jane Sanders has a checkered history leading colleges, but all presidents serve at the will of their boards. It’s …
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Stay the Course in Vermont Healthcare

How quickly we forget. Just short of four decades ago, Vermont policymakers decided that a competitive healthcare system had not lowered healthcare costs, but was, in fact, driving costs up, as hospitals vied for more expensive technology and market share. The relationship between our thirteen community hospitals and our tertiary-care hospitals – then Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth – were tortured and riddled with expense. We decided that a citizen-regulated monopoly would better constrain costs, regulating towards a more cost – efficient and accessible network of integrated healthcare facilities, spanning sole practitioners, community clinics, community and tertiary care hospitals. And it worked. Looking at measures of access, prevention and treatment, avoidable hospital use, costs, healthy lives and equity, the Commonwealth Fund …
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Puccini in Middlebury

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been an opera buff. I remember sitting in the orchestra section at the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th and Broadway and hearing the great mid-century singers. My great-grandmother Selma was having a platonic affair with Caruso. My Aunt Rose hung out with the greats of the time: Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Kunz, and Jerome Hines. My fervid childish imagination lit up at the live passion, violence, and madness on stage that made the comics littering Al Melendy’s barbershop in Morrisville seem pale by comparison. One afternoon after seeing an Aida with my grandmother, the head of the Opera Guild, the fan club for the well-heeled, ushered us backstage to meet the diva, Galina …
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When reverence for our past blinds us to our future….

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’ We’re a microcosm of the world around us. Our communities and our natural, working, and built environments make us a wonderful place to live, but I worry that our tendency toward self-adulation calcifies belief systems that often impede our progress. Change happens whether we like it or not and it’s critical to understand and accommodate it without compromising our values. To ignore change puts our future at risk. I love a well-framed barn, in fact, my first home was one. I love and use hand-made tools. But I …
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A Nation of Cranks?

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions. If only we lived in a simple binary world of absolutes instead of in the complicated, nuanced world where some things can be true and false at the same time. We wouldn’t need all this troublesome education, reading, art, science, and conversation. We could just eat, drink, watch television, and give those who disagree with us the digital digit. Friends send me anti-vax, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-religion, anti-wind, anti-hunting, anti-single-payer memes… the list is endless and …
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Creative Invention: Plan for the future, learn from the past

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity. Now combine that thought with the fact that Vermont spends twice as much storing our social and economic fallout in jail as it does supporting its six state colleges. The chancellor and Board have begun a process to merge Johnson and Lyndon to save administrative overhead, but this is structural, and much more could be done to prepare both campuses for the new age we’re entering. It’s widely accepted that prevention …
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To Hell in a Man-basket?

Growing up in the transition from Vermont’s “Republican century” to the Democratic “sixties,” the political labels we used seemed meaningless in the many discussions I had with people of differing political ideals. I usually found commonsense and decency in their differing perspectives. The social compression of Vermont’s small towns, both in daily life and annually at town meeting, didn’t inhibit diversity of opinion on any topic. But the fact that we depended on one another in hard times, attended the same churches, traded in the same stores, and buried our dead in the same cemeteries meant we generally spoke civilly to one another, considered opposing opinions, and often found common ground. I don’t know whether it’s the inherent distance of …
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