McGonagle, House Pass Legislation

Special to the Independent

In an effort to ensure greater accountability on behalf of our veterans and their families, Rep. Joe McGonagle and the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed legislation today that makes key reforms to the governance structure of the 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. 

“I am very grateful that my colleagues in the House placed this issue as such a high priority,” said McGonagle. “What happened in Holyoke was tragic and inexcusable, but we can always be doing more for our veterans. Seeing the critical care these homes provide, especially during COVID-19, proves just how important bills like this are.”

Following the tragedy at the Holyoke Veterans’ Home in 2020, which resulted in the COVID-19 related deaths of 77 veterans, the Legislature established the Special Joint Oversight Committee on the veterans’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 Outbreak to investigate and make legislative recommendations. 

“Today, with the best interests of our veterans and their families in mind, the House took action to ensure greater accountability and oversight for veterans’ homes in Massachusetts,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “This legislation takes significant steps to change how our veterans’ homes are governed and managed, and establishes protocols that are designed to identify and correct any examples of mismanagement or inadequate care as quickly as possible. I thank Chair McMurtry and Chair Michlewitz for the work they did to advance this critical legislation.”

“An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth veterans’ homes” (H.4441):

“I am so excited for this important legislation to be enacted,” said State Representative Jessica Giannino (D-Revere). “Our veterans selflessly served to protect the values, lives, and rights of our great country. Now it is our time to serve our veterans by giving them the best services and treatment available.”

“We as a Commonwealth and a country have not greater duty than to take care of our veterans.  The passage of this important legislation will allow the Commonwealth to improve the delivery of services to veterans most in need. I am proud to have supported this effort,” said State Representative Jeffrey Rosario Turco (D-Winthrop).

“This legislation will build a foundation for consistent statewide expectations at the Commonwealth’s Soldiers’ Homes. The men and women who have served our nation in uniform deserve top level quality care.  These measures will go a long way toward ensuring that care as we begin a new chapter in a soon to open Chelsea Home thanks to the continued commitment of Speaker Mariano, Chairman McMurty, the entire legislature and Governor Baker.” said State Representative Dan Ryan (D-Charlestown)

“An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth veterans’ homes” (H.4441):

• Requires home superintendents to be licensed as nursing home administrators and either be a veteran or someone with experience managing veterans in a nursing home or long term-care facility.

• Establishes a 17-member statewide Veterans’ Homes Council to manage and control the veterans’ homes, promulgate regulations to the local boards, and confirm and remove superintendents.

• Preserves local, 5-member boards of trustees for the veterans’ homes in Chelsea and Holyoke with the authority to nominate candidates for superintendents of their respective veterans’ homes.

• Establishes the Office of the Veteran Advocate, an independent office that will be led by a Veteran Advocate appointed by the Governor, Attorney General and State Auditor.

• Requires the Veteran Advocate to submit an annual report, which will be made public, to the Governor and the Legislature with an analysis of the delivery of services to veterans and recommendations for changes in agency procedures. 

• Establishes the position of ombudsperson for each veterans’ home to advocate on behalf of the residents and staff at the home.

• Requires the Department of Public Health (DPH) to conduct and report on inspections of veterans’ homes twice a year, or as often as they see fit, and establishes a maximum time of 30 days for a veterans’ home to correct any violation that DPH identifies. 

• Requires that all state-operated veterans’ homes adhere to the guidelines for trauma-informed care as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and be certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

• Requires the Office of Veterans’ Homes and Housing to submit an annual report including findings but not limited to the quality of care provided at the homes and an analysis of activities of the Office and of the Veterans’ Homes Council.

In May 2021, the House 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’ Home in Chelsea or Holyoke.

“An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth veterans’ homes” passed the House of Representatives with a 156-1 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

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