Hello Valley Patriot Readers,
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 77 residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home tragically died of the virus – the deadliest outbreak at a long-term care facility in the United States over the course of the pandemic. In late March 2020, there had been 230 residents at the home. By the end of that April, only about 100 remained.
A report, commissioned by the Governor and released that summer, was critical of the home’s superintendent for mishandling the outbreak and making decisions that made little sense from an infection-control perspective.
The report noted that veterans with COVID-19 were often placed in the same location as veterans without the virus; that infected residents were not properly isolated; and that residents with symptoms were often not tested.
Ultimately, the superintendent was placed on administrative leave, subsequently fired and later indicted on charges of reckless bodily injury to an elder or disabled person.
Recently, in response to this tragedy, the Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation to increase public oversight over the administration of the state-operated veterans’ homes, both in Holyoke and Chelsea. To improve safety and transparency at the veterans’ homes, the bill restructures the chain of command to more closely match established administrative practices used in hospitals and other large organizations.
Under the legislation, a new, full-time ombudsperson would receive, investigate, and assist in resolving complaints related to the health and wellbeing of veterans’ homes’ residents and staff. To effectively aid these efforts, a public hotline would be created for residents and staff to direct concerns. The bill would also task the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) with regularly inspecting the homes, with all inspection reports made publicly available. Veterans’ homes would be required to be licensed as long-term care facilities by DPH and adhere to the same standards and regulations.
Other important provisions include ensuring that all veterans’ homes are licensed as long-term care facilities; employing both an infection control specialist and an emergency preparedness specialist; having adequate infection control programs in place; establishing best practices for treating post-traumatic stress disorder; and removing existing procedural hurdles which make it harder to donate operating supplies, clothing, medical equipment and personal hygiene products veterans’ homes.
There undoubtedly remains work to be done on this issue. I am continuing to strongly advocate that Senate oversight hearings, utilizing the full subpoena and record review powers within our purview with sworn testimony from the Administration, take place to investigate the alarming, unsettling and multiple layers of potential wrongdoing that occurred during the Holyoke tragedy.
The Boston Globe’s investigative Spotlight Team last year released a comprehensive, scathing report that shined a spotlight on how the Administration’s supposedly independent report was riddled with errors and omissions that deflected blame from the Administration onto others below them.
Families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 at the Soldiers’ Home deserve answers as to the Administration’s involvement and decisions. It is up to us to ascertain what truly happened there and prevent it from ever happening again.
While I will continue to push for oversight hearings, this legislation marks a significant step in the right direction. I am grateful to Senator Michael F. Rush (D-Boston) for his leadership in sponsoring this important bill and hopeful we can get it to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.
If you have any questions on this or any other issue, please feel free to contact me anytime via email at Diana.Dizoglio@masenate.gov or phone at 978-984-7747.
Yours in service,