Harry Chen

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State officials are investigating water contamination in North Bennington

MONTPELIER — A possible carcinogen found in a nearby New York town has also been found in several private wells in North Bennington, the Shumlin administration announced Thursday morning after receiving test results just hours earlier. The chemical, Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, is the same chemical that was found in the village of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., that has drawn national attention. It was that case that spurred a concerned citizen to reach out to members of the Vermont Legislature with concerns of potential contamination in North Bennington. One company, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, operated factories that made non-stick coatings in both towns under the Chemfab name in recent decades. The New York plant is still operating while the North Bennington facility, which was purchased by Saint-Gobain in 2000, was closed in 2002. Continue Reading →

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New study examines the health impacts of legal marijuana

BURLINGTON — The Department of Health has issued a report on the potential health impacts of legal marijuana, and offers recommendations to mitigate some health risks. The 84-page report examines the physical and mental health effects of marijuana and offers recommendations that touch on impaired driving, marijuana-infused edible products and teen use. “This is very important information that legislators need to have in mind as they make their decision whether to move forward, and more importantly, how to move forward,” said Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Department of Health. (more…) Continue Reading →

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New rules to fight opiate addiction

BURLINGTON — The state is making an effort to tighten up the rules surrounding the prescription of opiates and expand the rules surrounding prescriptions to fight opiate addiction. On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin outlined rules intended to curb the prescription of drugs such as OxyContin in Vermont, while revealing a multi-state effort to expand the number of people who are allowed to prescribe drugs such as Suboxone for addicts who are seeking treatment. “In the fight against opiate addiction, Vermont has made incredible progress,” Shumlin said. “We still have much work to do. We are fighting this battle on two fronts: helping those already addicted get into treatment and recovery and stopping addiction from taking hold in the first place.”

Since his 2014 State of the State Address – which he devoted entirely to the state’s opiate epidemic – Shumlin has made the issue a cornerstone of his administration’s priorities. Continue Reading →

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State to try new drug to fight opiate addiction

MONTPELIER — The state will begin offering a drug to inmates leaving prison that blocks the brain’s pleasure center, with the goal of reducing relapses into opiate addiction. Beginning in January, inmates leaving Marble Valley Correctional Facility will have access to naltrexone, a drug that prevents a user from feeling high when ingesting an opiate such as heroin or oxycodone. So far, the state has trained 50 health care providers to prescribe naltrexone, a drug that is administered once a month by injection; however, no special training needed and the drug can be administered by any prescriber. Currently, the drug is approved for use in treating alcoholism and opiate addiction. While the drug itself is not new — some doctors have been prescribing the drug all along — the state is looking to expand its use in the hope of curbing the state’s opiate epidemic. Continue Reading →

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Two years late: Is Vermont Health Connect Finally Ready?

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin had not even decided to run for the state’s top office when the federal Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010, but the landmark legislation would soon begin to shape his governorship in ways he could not have imagined. Shumlin, who was sworn into office in January 2011, began his tenure as the state’s chief executive with a trademark swagger. Now as he approaches the end, having announced in June that he will not seek a fourth term, he is hoping to leave in place a working exchange that he has championed, but which has struggled for two years and one month to meet Vermonters’ expectations. The governor held a news conference Thursday to announce that the site should finally work today, Nov. 1, as the open enrollment period for 2016 health care plans begins. Continue Reading →

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DCF report seeks staff and training

MONTPELIER — A report released Wednesday based on an internal review of the Department for Children and Families does not recommend restructuring the agency, but does seek immediate boosts to staffing, additional staff training and better collaboration between the department and its partners. Acting Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen and DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz presented the plan to Gov. Peter Shumlin Wednesday. Shumlin had requested an internal review in May following the deaths of two toddlers under the department’s supervision. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides and murder charges were filed. Continue Reading →

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Racine out at AHS

MONTPELIER – Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine is being replaced, the Shumlin administration announced Tuesday, as challenges within the agency mount. According to Shumlin administration officials, current Health Commissioner Harry Chen will replace Racine on an interim basis while a permanent replacement is sought. “I appreciate Doug’s hard work over three and a half years to help Vermont’s most vulnerable,” Shumlin said in a release. Shumlin touted the agency’s move to a data-driven, results-based planning strategy and a revamped mental health system under Racine’s tenure. But the agency has faced significant challenges, too. Continue Reading →

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Vaccine issue resurfaces in Montpelier, but leadership not keen on reliving old battle

One of the surprise controversies of 2012 arrived at the Legislature in the form of a bill that sought to rescind the “philosophical exemption” invoked by hundreds of parents across Vermont to sidestep school vaccination requirements. A grassroots coalition of well-organized citizens managed to quash the legislation, convincing lawmakers to adopt a watered-down version that made it only slightly more difficult to invoke the exemption. One the top supporters of the 2012 bill, however, is renewing the push this year to address what he says are alarmingly low vaccination rates in pockets of the state. Rep. George Till, a Jericho Democrat and the lone medical doctor in the Legislature, wants to remove both the philosophical and religious exemptions for the vaccination that prevents pertussis – a.k.a. whooping cough. And at public schools where the vaccination rate drops below 90 percent, Till has a separate bill that would revoke the religious and philosophical exemptions for any vaccination. Continue Reading →

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