The Massachusetts State Senate passed 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 would restructure 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 failures at the veterans’ home in Holyoke, which led to the tragic deaths of 77 veterans during the early days of the pandemic and builds on recommendations made by the Special Joint Oversight Committee on the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 Outbreak, which investigated.
Several of the changes that this legislation would bring are related to how the Homes’ are managed.
The homes are currently managed by a Superintendent, who is responsible for everyday operation of the homes and for ensuring improvements to quality of care. The Senate’s legislation would 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 (OVHH). Under the legislation, superintendents would be required to fulfill certain criteria, including being a licensed nursing home administrator with experience running a long-term care facility.
The Executive Director of OVHH would be appointed by the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Services, which would be elevated to a cabinet-level position, appointed by the Governor. The Secretary would be required to promulgate regulations concerning the operations and administration of veterans’ homes. Elevating the Secretary to a cabinet-level position would facilitate more timely attention to all personnel challenges.
Additionally, a new, full-time ombudsperson would receive, investigate, and assist in resolving complaints related to the health, wellbeing, 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 and providing this information to the public. Veterans’ homes would be required to be licensed as long-term care facilities by DPH and adhere to the same standards and regulations.
The Secretary of Veteran’s Services to conduct an outreach program on the benefits and application process for the veterans’ under this bill.
Senator Brendan Crighton’s amendment that would create a comprehensive infection control program at state-operated veterans’ homes was also adopted as part of this bill.
“Veterans sacrifice so much for our freedom and they deserve top-notch care at these homes,” said Senator Crighton. “This reform bill helps ensure that these facilities have are operating safely and effectively.”
In addition, the bill would also 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.
The bill also addresses non-management related issues including. It seeks to remove existing procedural hurdles which make it harder to donate supplies, equipment and products. The legislation would also require homes to accept Medicare and Medicaid payment It would also provide mental health resources to employees of state-operated veterans’ homes who worked during the pandemic.
Finally, the bill would create a commission to rename the Veterans’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke after specific Massachusetts veteran and 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.
As a version of this bill has previously passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve any differences between the Senate and House versions.