BOSTON – This week, State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her legislative colleagues in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pass An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth’s veterans’ homes, which makes key reforms to the governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes, ensures that both homes are federally licensed as health care facilities, mandates increased state management, and provides independent oversight and accountability of veterans’ homes management. Following the tragedy at the Holyoke Veterans’ Home in 2020, which resulted in the COVID-19 related deaths of 78 veterans, the Legislature established the Special Joint Oversight Committee on the veterans’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 Outbreak to investigate and make recommendations which resulted in this legislation.
“After dedicating their lives to the service of our country, our veterans deserve the utmost respect and the highest levels of care in their later years,” said State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull). “This legislation makes important changes to the existing structures and systems for licensing, management, and oversight in our Veterans’ Homes, all of which aim to center the well-being of our veterans.”
The legislation creates a direct line of authority by creating a Secretary of Veterans’ Services position, with a corresponding executive office in the Commonwealth, as the ultimate appointing authority of the superintendents of the two state-operated homes. It also creates a newly constituted 19-member Veterans’ Homes Council to advise the Secretary to ensure the health and well-being of veteran residents. The council is tasked with reviewing and approving the local Board of Trustees’ nomination for superintendent of their respective home before submitting the final candidate to the Secretary for consideration of appointment.
The legislation also makes the superintendent the administrative head of a state-operated veterans’ home, prescribing them with concrete responsibilities. It includes critical qualifications for the role, requiring that the individual selected be a licensed nursing home administrator, and be a veteran or have experience in the management of veterans in a long-term care or nursing home facility. The medical director of each state-operated veterans’ home will recommend to the superintendent all medical staff, physicians, and nurses at the respective home for their review for hiring.
To further protect the health and safety of residents and staff, the report requires all state-operated veterans’ homes be licensed as nursing homes by the Department of Public Health (DPH), a provision that was not previously enforced in state law. It also directs the department to conduct inspections of the homes biannually—and monthly during a declared state of emergency—with a timeframe for when violations must be resolved. Each state-operated veterans’ home must apply and maintain certification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to participate in such programs on behalf of their residents, as well as adhere to federal guidelines for trauma-informed care.
The comprehensive bill also reaffirms the role of the Executive Director of Veterans’ Homes and Housing, who will now oversee the Veterans’ Home Council as chair, in addition to their other responsibilities. The report goes further in enhancing the care of all veterans in the Commonwealth by creating an Office of the Veteran Advocate, appointed by the Governor, Attorney General and State Auditor, independent of any supervision control by an executive agency, to guarantee veterans residing in the state are always receiving services in a humane and dignified manner. The legislation also establishes the position of ombudsperson for each veterans’ home to advocate on behalf of the residents and staff at the home.
In May 2021, the Legislature approved a $600 million bond authorization—with $400 million for the construction of an updated Holyoke Veterans’ Home facility and $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility for veterans not primarily served by the veterans’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.
Having been passed by the House and Senate, An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth’s veterans’ homes (H.5106) now goes to Governor Baker for his signature.