Legislative Assembly bill seeks to resolve oversight issues in Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers' Homes | MCU Times

Legislative Assembly bill seeks to resolve oversight issues in Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes

Following a catastrophic COVID-19 response that left at least 76 veterans dead in the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, a few bills filed on Beacon Hill aim to address the management issues that led to the crisis.

“There was a very messy and dysfunctional chain of command, very long-standing and serious shortcomings were left unresolved, a lack of both staff and training, a total lack of protocols and sound standard procedures, management lacking professional qualifications and qualities.” said Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, who filed the house bill.

“Ultimately, the violent, unacceptable and grossly negligent administration in the home led to many of the deaths during this tragedy,” she added during a hearing in the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs Friday afternoon.

The bills, which came out of a report by a special legislative committee investigating the COVID-19 outbreak at Holyoke, would make several changes to the management structure in the home and in Chelsea’s Soldiers’ Home.

The bills would establish a state-wide 12-member Massachusetts Veterans’ Homes Advisory Council, appointed by the governor. The council will include, among others, one person with expertise in elderly care, another with experience in working conditions, another with experience in financial management and an interest in veterans’ affairs. It would also require oversight, including regular staff and facility reviews, an emergency hotline, and required full-time positions in infection control and emergency preparedness in each home.

The Special Committee report found that politically connected Holyoke Inspector Bennett Walsh was unqualified for his position, despite the Baker administration knowing he was unfit to serve in that role. A confusing chain of command between Holyoke, a board and the Baker administration and lack of staff added fuel to the fire of the crisis.

However, not everyone agreed with the changes. Cindy Lacoste, of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Board of Trustees, said she is not in favor of “throwing everything away and starting from scratch”, given improvements since the outbreak in the spring of 2020. She mentioned the lack of new COVID cases since June 2020 as proof that the changes are working.

Instead, she suggested getting the homes to report to the Department of Public Health for medical supervision, but to keep administrative control under the Department of Veterans’ Services.

“If the military can handle dual reporting, admin and operations and scenarios that are much larger and more involved than our veterans’ homes, I’m sure we can ensure that the state of Mass. Can create the same for the safety of our veterans,” she said.

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