Rep. Campbell’s Committee Prevails on Soldiers’ Home Reforms After COVID-19 Deaths; Bill Goes to Baker

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell shares a moment with a veteran during a previous ceremony at the State House. (Courtesy photograph.)

Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and Sen. Mike Rush, both veterans, prevailed Thursday in their calls for “a clear chain of command” to oversee state veterans’ homes.

Campbell, as WHAV reported first last February, was unhappy with a weakened version of their bill which was intended to prevent another tragedy like the COVID-19 outbreak that took dozens of veterans’ lives in 2020 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. A House and Senate conference committee this week sided with Campbell and Rush.

“Our legislative investigation dug deep into both the immediate and underlying causes of this tragedy and concluded it was a perfect storm that had been brewing for years—COVID just broke the dam,” said Campbell. “Accountability and authority must permeate governance reform at our Soldiers’ Homes. She said the revamped bill establishes a clear chain of command with the superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home reporting to the secretary of Veterans’ Services, who reports to the governor.

Campbell added, “This bill requires—not asks for—collaboration, communication and accountability at all levels of leadership at our Soldiers’ Homes.”

Besides elevating the secretary of Veterans’ Services to a cabinet-level post, Campbell said other reforms include requiring the superintendent of soldiers’ homes to be a licensed nursing home administrator with experience in Veteran care or long-term care. The legislation also creates a “robust” hiring process and gives secretary of Veterans’ Services authority to hire and, if necessary, fire superintendents; makes “governance, protocols and quality of care” uniform between the Holyoke and Chelsea soldiers’ homes; requires state Department of Public Health inspections at least twice per year; requires homes to be certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and creates the jobs of ombudsman, where families and others can turn for help, and veteran advocate to publicly raise any concerns.

The revised measures won praise from local veterans’ advocates. Ralph Basiliere, a disabled veteran of the U.S. Marines, chairman of the Haverhill Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission and the city’s former acting director of Veterans’ Services, said “This is a good day for vulnerable veterans in Massachusetts. The grief-stricken families can know their loved ones didn’t die in vain.”

Methuen Veterans’ Service Officer Paul Jensen, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and former Company Commander with the 82nd Airborne Division, praised Campbell and Rush, saying, “It is especially impressive that they rejected the initial bill introduced after their report, choosing instead to stick to their guns and insist on reforms proposed in the original bill.”

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