Legislative bills aim to address surveillance issues at soldiers’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea

After a disastrous COVID-19 response that left at least 76 veterans dead at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, two bills introduced in Beacon Hill aim to address the management issues that led to the crisis.

“There was a very confusing and dysfunctional chain of command, very old and serious shortcomings that had not been addressed, a lack of personnel and training, a complete lack of strong standard protocols and procedures, leadership that lacked qualifications and professional qualifications, ”said Representative Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, who introduced the House bill.

“In the end, the blatant, unacceptable and gravely negligent administration of the home resulted in many deaths during this tragedy,” she added during a hearing of the Joint Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee. Friday afternoon.

The bills, which emerged from a report by a special legislative committee that investigated the COVID-19 outbreak in Holyoke, would make several changes to the leadership structure at the home and Chelsea’s Soldiers’ Home.

The bills would establish a 12-member Massachusetts Veterans Home Advisory Council, appointed by the governor. The board would include one person with expertise in geriatric care, another with labor relations experience, another with tax management experience and an interest in veterans affairs, among others. It would also require oversight, including regular reviews of staff and facilities, a hotline, and full-time staff positions required in infection control and emergency preparedness in each home.

The special committee report found that politically connected Holyoke superintendent Bennett Walsh was unqualified for his post, although the Baker administration knew he was unfit for the role. A confused chain of command between Holyoke, a board of directors, and the Baker administration and staff shortages fueled the fire of the crisis.

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

Instead, she suggested that the homes come under the Department of Public Health for medical oversight, but keeping administrative control under the Department of Veterans Services.

“If the military can handle the dual reporting, administration and operations and much larger and more complex scenarios than our veterans’ homes, I’m sure we can make sure the State of Mass. Can handle it. put the same in place for the safety of our veterans, ”she said.

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