BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — State legislators reached a deal that would reshape oversight of the Commonwealth's two soldiers' homes Wednesday.
The conference committee on veterans' homes agreed to 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 at the homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. It also creates a statewide advisory council to recommend ways to address the needs of veterans across Massachusetts, and creates an independent Office of the Veteran Advocate.
The bill also requires that the Department of Public Health inspect each state-operated veterans’ home at least twice per year and every 30 days during emergencies, and requires veterans’ homes to be licensed long-term care facilities.
"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," Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Speaker of the House Ronald J. Mariano, Senator Michael F. Rush, and Representative Joseph F. Wagner said in a statement. "We look forward to taking this legislation up shortly to get it on the Governor’s desk soon."
78 residents at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home died as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak in spring 2020, while many other residents and staffers contracted the disease. A class action lawsuit against state officials and ousted leaders of the soldiers’ home was filed in July 2020. A $56 million settlement was reached in May 2022. Governor Charlie Baker filed a $56 million bill in June to fund the settlement, which the Senate unanimously passed in July.