State Considers Changes To Veterans Homes After Outbreak

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts lawmakers are considering changes to how the state oversees its veterans homes after nearly 80 residents died last year in one of the country’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in a U.S. nursing home.

A bill being discussed Friday would impose new certification requirements for veteran-care facilities and elevate the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services to a cabinet-level organization, WCVB-TV reported.

Nearly 80 residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home died after contracting the coronavirus in the spring of 2020. The home’s former superintendent and former medical director have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges connected to the deaths.

Families of veterans who died called for changes. They said at a hearing last month that this legislation, proposed in response to the outbreak, is insufficient. They want the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and in Chelsea to be overseen by the state Department of Public Health, not the state Department of Veterans' Services.

The members of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition said the board of trustees for the homes should also include appointments from the veterans community. And they want medical experts put in charge of day-to-day operations.

An independent report commissioned by the state concluded administrators made “utterly baffling” decisions that allowed the virus to spread unchecked.