The MA 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.
“This comprehensive reform bill makes critical changes to the system that were identified after the tragic events at these facilities during the pandemic,” said Senator Michael Moore, “We have an obligation to the Veterans of the Commonwealth to ensure that a situation like this never happens again and we have work to do to regain their trust.”
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, 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; 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.
Additional amendments adopted will ensure that all veterans’ homes are licensed as long-term care facilities; employ both an infection control specialist and an emergency preparedness specialist; have adequate infection control programs in place; and establish best practices for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. The bill directs the Secretary of Veteran’s Services to conduct an outreach program on the benefits and application process for the veterans’ homes and require all annual reports from the statewide and regional veterans’ homes advisory councils to be publicly accessible online.
The Senate’s bill would remove existing procedural hurdles which make it harder to donate operating supplies, clothing, medical equipment, personal hygiene products, and holiday gifts to veterans’ homes. To facilitate veterans’ access to health care, state-operated veterans’ homes would be required to accept Medicare and Medicaid payments. The bill would also provide mental health resources to employees of state-operated veterans’ homes who worked during the pandemic and create a commission to rename the Veterans’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke after specific Massachusetts veterans.
Finally, the bill would 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.
The bill will now go to a conference committee to resolve any differences between the Senate and House versions.