Sweeping legislation to overhaul operations of the state’s soldiers’ homes is moving ahead, steered by local state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and state Sen. Mike Rush, chairs of the former Special Joint Oversight Committee on the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 outbreak.
The legislation addresses the 14 key findings and recommendations in the Special Joint Oversight Committee’s report that addressed longstanding and immediate issues at the Soldiers’ Homes that led to the 77 deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in 2020.
“This legislation defines comprehensive reforms for systemic and critical governing deficiencies that were present before the COVID-19 outbreak occurred and that created the perfect storm for this preventable tragedy,” said Campbell. “Governing deficiencies included no clear lines of chain of command, accountability and responsibility, among others.”
The legislation calls for elevating the secretary of Veterans’ Services to a cabinet-level position and removing the Department of Veterans’ Services from within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; creating a statewide Veterans’ Homes Advisory Council to provide continuity, predictability and stability across all state-operated veterans’ homes and ensure the highest quality of care; creating local bodies to serve as community advocates for each home; establishing a consistent, transparent process for the appointment of each superintendent and deputy superintendent; requiring each superintendent be a licensed nursing home administrator; requiring a full-time specialist in infection control and emergency preparedness at each home; requiring annual performance reviews for all leadership positions; establishing a clear chain of command from superintendent to the executive director of Veterans’ Homes and Housing to the secretary of veterans affairs to the governor; among other measures.
The proposal also requires regular situation reports to state officials during emergencies; regular meetings between the executive director of veterans’ homes and housing and the leadership at each home; add an ombudsperson and an emergency hotline to allow residents, their families and staff to communicate concerns and time-sensitive issues more easily, with whistleblower protections in place; direct the Department of Public Health to conduct inspections of each home twice per year; ensure mental health resources are made available to staff who worked at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home during the outbreak in 2020 and that such resources are made available in the event of any future emergency; and more.