By Bob Katzen
Governor Baker signed into law legislation that will 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. The measure elevates 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 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; and creating a statewide advisory Veterans’ Home Council.
“From streamlining the chain of command, to elevating the Veterans Secretary to cabinet level and expanding the Department of Public Health’s role, this legislation contains important improvements for our commonwealth’s veterans’ homes, and I am glad that the governor has signed it into law,” said sponsor Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) who was appointed by Sen. President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) to lead the Senate working group that will oversee implementation of this legislation.
Velis noted that the work must continue and the group must “identify what we need to improve on further and continue to work to ensure that the tragedy that took place at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home never happens again.”