On March 10, 2022, State Senator Jason Lewis joined his Senate colleagues to unanimously pass legislation to increase public oversight over the administration of state-operated veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. To improve safety and transparency at the veterans’ homes, the bill mandates restructuring the chain of command to more closely match established administrative practices used in hospitals and other large organizations. This legislation follows continued scrutiny of administrative and other failures at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke that led to the tragic deaths of 77 veterans during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our veterans and their families have made many sacrifices to serve and protect our nation, and it is unconscionable that so many veterans lost their lives due to inadequate health and safety protocols at the Holyoke veterans’ home,” said Lewis. “I’m hopeful that this legislation will lead to the reforms and necessary oversight to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again and that our veterans’ homes provide the highest quality care to their residents.”
This comprehensive reform bill is designed to increase the safety of residents of veterans’ homes in the Commonwealth. A new, full-time ombudsperson would receive, investigate and assist in resolving complaints related to the health, well-being and rights 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 Department of Public Health (DPH) with regularly inspecting the homes; all inspection reports would be made publicly available, excluding identifying information of patients and staff. Veterans’ homes would be required to be licensed as long-term care facilities by DPH and adhere to the same standards and regulations.
This bill would also:
- Give the authority to appoint a superintendent for each of the veterans’ homes to the Executive Director of the Office of Veterans’ Homes and Housing.
- Create a statewide Massachusetts Veterans’ Homes Advisory Council – tasked with recommending policies to the Secretary of Veterans Services – as well as Regional Councils, which would be tasked with representing the interests of the local community, residents and family members at each veterans’ home.
- Require each veterans’ home to have a full-time specialist in infection control and emergency preparedness and to adhere to medically sound guidelines for trauma-informed care, including best practices for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention.
- Remove existing procedural hurdles which make it harder to donate operating supplies, clothing, medical equipment, personal hygiene products and holiday gifts to veterans’ homes.
- Require state-operated veterans’ homes to accept Medicare and Medicaid payments.
- Provide mental health resources to employees of state-operated veterans’ homes who worked during the pandemic.
- Create a commission to rename the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke after specific Massachusetts veterans.
- Establish March 21 as Veterans’ Homes Remembrance Day, to honor the veterans who lost their lives due to the tragic COVID-19 outbreaks at veterans’ homes.
Since a version of An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth’s veterans’ homes was previously (February 10, 2022) passed (156-1) by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill, and then the Legislature will send its final bill to Governor Charlie Baker for his signature or other action(s).