Mashpee Enterprise Newspaper
December 28, 2012
By ELSA H. PARTAN
The new pediatrician hired by the Community Health Center of Cape Cod in Mashpee arrives on the job with dramatic, life-changing experiences behind him, both professional and personal.
At an interview Wednesday in his home office in Harwich, 59-year-old Matthew G. Masiello described a career marked by a desire to improve the communities in which he has lived, including organizing a gun-buyback program in Pittsburgh and an antibullying campaign elsewhere in the state.
The Bronx native became the staff pediatrician at the health center in Mashpee on December 3, moving to Harwich with his wife, Kathleen, a nurse, and his 12-year-old son, Jason. Another son, 18-year-old Matthew, attends American University, while an adopted daughter, Kim, lives with his first wife in Connecticut.
In a startling twist, the man who came to be known in Pittsburgh as “Dr. Gun” in the 1990s for his ceaseless campaign to get unwanted firearms out of homes, watched as his 7-year-old son was shot in the shoulder on a soccer field in rural Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a decade later.
Dr. Masiello’s experiences in Pittsburgh and in Johnstown led him to speak in Mashpee last week at a meeting dedicated to answering parents’ questions about security in schools in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting. He urged audience members to speak to their representatives in government to make changes that will keep children safe, although he was not specific about what those changes should be.
Surrounded by artifacts he collected during work trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Indonesia, Dr. Masiello said he does not have a one-size-fits-all strategy. In the mid-1990s, Pittsburgh had the unfortunate distinction of being one of the few American cities in which more young African-Americans were killed by gunshot wounds than in car accidents, he said. Dr. Masiello saw the impact of accidental and intentional shootings of children as the director of pediatric critical care services at Allegheny General Hospital.
“We were seeing a very different, terrible trend,” he said. “We developed a coalition and created the largest gun-buyback program in the country.”
The community was ready to do something about it, he said. A previous gun-buyback had only yielded a few dozen guns. This time, people turned in thousands of weapons.
When he moved to Johnstown in 1996 to become the chairman of the pediatrics department at Memorial Medical Center, he learned quickly that asking people to turn over their guns was not going to work.
“They didn’t want to hear about it,” he said. “A well-known judge said to me, ‘I’ll help with whatever you want to do, but don’t do guns.’ He was an avid hunter.”
Instead, he learned from a group of school nurses that their top three concerns were bullying, childhood obesity, and lack of mental health services. It was 1997, and the three issues that seem almost ubiquitous today were only beginning to emerge in the public eye.
Thus began a decade-long effort by Dr. Masiello and a coalition of community leaders to bring in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, an 18-month system designed by a Norwegian professor to create a lasting change in a school’s culture.
“In 2006 our public health group became the recipient of the first $1.7 million grant to do bullying prevention,” he said. “It is the largest bullying prevention program in the world. It has been an incredible experience.”
Dr. Masiello has had a connection to Cape Cod ever since he and his wife purchased a cottage in Dennisport in the 1990s. They sold that house and purchased a summer home in Harwich in 2008, which is now their permanent home.
In the three short weeks that Dr. Masiello has been working on Cape Cod, he has already turned his attention to the needs of his new community. As he talked about his work, Dr. Masiello was interrupted by a phone call from a Harwich police officer who was returning his call. Dr. Masiello set up an appointment to talk with the officer about gun violence and children.
The pediatrician says his focus on preventing children from being injured by guns intensified after his son was shot in 2007 by a drunken man who was aiming at chipmunks near a children’s soccer match.
“It was a beautiful summer day around the Fourth of July,” he said. “All of a sudden the referee is shouting, ‘Clear the field.’ He said, ‘Matt, Jason’s been shot.’ I can’t tell you how terrible an experience that was.”
The worst part was seeing the expression of fear on the face of his 13-year-old son, Matt, Dr. Masiello said.
“He didn’t know whether his younger brother was going to live or die,” he said.
A dozen parents surrounded the oblivious shooter, who turned out not to possess any firearms’ licenses. The man was prosecuted for hunting violations and spent a few months in jail, Dr. Masiello said.
Jason recovered from the blast, which was a “clean through-and-through shoulder injury,” Dr. Masiello said in the manner of someone practiced in describing gunshot wounds.
As Dr. Masiello gauges Cape Cod’s willingness to address access to guns, he will also be taking on a quieter, even more far-reaching topic. He is continuing in his position as the director of the center for health promotion and disease prevention at the Windber Research Institute, a private, nonprofit organization in Windber, Pennsylvania. In this capacity, he is exploring a system of health care called the expanded chronic care model. An example of this is the “medical home” model already being pursued by the Community Health Center of Cape Cod. All of the innovations fall under the basic concept that the patient no longer has to be sick to receive health care.
As he pursues his professional interests, the question that drives him is simple, he said.
“How do we keep the kids healthy?” he said. “There is much more to do.”
Elsa H. Partan, reporter