Regional Equity Again Cited In Holyoke Soldiers' Home Bill Legislative Hearing

Apr 5, 2021

Updated at 7:33 p.m. 

Another Massachusetts legislative committee heard testimony Monday on a $400 million bill to fund a new Holyoke Soldiers' Home. Questions arose again about geographic equity and care for the thousands of veterans outside the two state-run facilities in Holyoke and Chelsea.

The Holyoke Soldiers' Home was the site of a COVID-19 outbreak last year where at least 76 veterans died.

Some members of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets said they had concerns about the legislation. There was worry the bill was moving too fast to meet a tight deadline for federal matching funds, and there are lawmakers who feel veterans services in other parts of the state need to be bolstered.

"This legislature is committed to service to our veterans," said Danielle Gregoire, a state representative from Marlborough, who is co-chair of the committee. "I'm having some concerns about the timeframe and about the rush to get this done so quickly. And, I just want to make sure we're doing it correctly as well as quickly."

State Senator John Velis of Westfield told the committee he supports looking at veterans' care across the state, but time is of the essence to move on a new Holyoke Soldiers' Home.

"The commonwealth has the opportunity to secure a major reimbursement for this project," Velis said. "Sixty-five percent of the total $400 million cost. We can't miss this opportunity."

During the hearing, Bonding Committee Co-chair Sen. Paul Feeney voiced concerns that the state might be "putting all of our eggs in one basket" and falling short on veteran services in other counties.

Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan told lawmakers the project is not a "zero-sum game" that prevents action to support veterans or long-term care facilities in other parts of the state. He defended the Baker administration's push to replace the former facility due to its age and major flaws exposed during the pandemic.

The State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee added language in its version of the bond authorization bill (H 96) requiring the administration to conduct a study of veterans' services and needs across the state.

Some members of the building trades community also testified for and against an amendment to the original bill, which would favor the use of union labor should the project take place.

This report includes information from State House News Service.