State lawmakers agree to legislation to overhaul oversight of Soldiers’ Homes

BOSTON — Massachusetts state lawmakers have agreed upon legislation that will overhaul oversight of the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes.

Those are the homes for veterans where dozens died after contracting COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

This legislation, that came out of a bipartisan working committee, puts more eyeballs on the Soldiers’ Homes and it ensures the people running the homes are qualified to do so.

The legislation received unanimous support in the senate Thursday afternoon. State lawmakers in both chambers have now approved the legislation, an ‘Act Relative to the Governance Structure and Care of Veterans at the Commonwealth’s Veteran’s Homes’, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk.

Here are some of the big changes to com:

  • The Department of Veterans Services will be elevated to a cabinet-level executive office that directly reports to the governor
  • The superintendents of the homes in Holyoke and Chelsea must have a nursing home administrator license (something the previous head of the Holyoke home did not)
  • It requires two annual home inspections by the department of health
  • It creates an independent office of the veteran advocate
  • And it will maintain the local board of trustees

These changes come more than two years after 84 veterans died during the outbreak at the Holyoke soldiers’ home, which began in March, 2020. 31 veterans died at the home in Chelsea.

In May, Governor Charlie Baker agreed to settle a lawsuit against the state over its treatment and care of veterans in Holyoke.

The settlement was for $56 million dollars.

In a joint statement Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Speaker of the House Ronald J. Mariano, Senator Michael F. Rush & Representative Joseph F. Wagner said this about the legislation:

“Nothing can alleviate the pain of the families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, but we can ensure that we act to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. We are pleased to announce that the conference committee on veterans’ homes has reached an agreement on legislation that clarifies the chain of command at veterans’ homes by elevating Department of Veterans Services to a cabinet-level executive office with direct reporting to the Governor and the ability to hire and fire superintendents, creates a statewide advisory council to recommend ways to address the needs of veterans across the Commonwealth, and creates an independent Office of the Veteran Advocate. It also seeks to ensure the health and wellbeing of veterans in veterans’ homes by requiring that the Department of Public Health inspect each state-operated veterans’ home at least twice per year and every 30 days during emergencies, as well as requiring veterans’ homes to be licensed long-term care facilities. We look forward to taking this legislation up shortly to get it on the Governor’s desk soon.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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