By Bob Katzen
The House 153-0, Senate 40-0, approved and sent to the governor a bill that would make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility. A key provision would elevate the Department of Veterans Services to a cabinet-level executive office with direct reporting to the governor and the ability to hire and fire superintendents.
Other provisions include requiring superintendents of the two soldiers’ homes to be licensed as nursing home administrators and that they oversee day-to-day management and operation of the homes; requiring two annual home inspections by the Department of Health; creating an independent Office of the Veteran Advocate; maintaining local Board of Trustees and creating a statewide advisory Veterans’ Home Council.
“This legislation contains important improvements that will benefit the men and women who have served our nation and will reside at our commonwealth’s Veterans’ Homes for the years to come,” said Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield). “At the same time, we know that this work must continue. The working group established will allow us to have oversight over this implementation, to identify what we need to improve on further, and to continue to work to ensure that the tragedy that took place at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home never happens again.”
“The Senate has been clear that we must rethink how we deliver care to veterans of every generation across Massachusetts and ensure that our veterans are connected to their communities,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “We are mindful that issues and circumstances may arise that compel additional thought, reassessment and legislative action and that work will continue. To that end, I am creating a Senate working group, chaired by Sen. John Velis, to review implementation of this important bill, identify and act on issues that may arise requiring additional legislation, and work with the administration to ensure the reforms contained within are implemented as the Legislature intended.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill).
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes