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Massachusetts House approves bill to address oversight at soldiers' homes in Holyoke, Chelsea

The Holyoke Soldiers' Home was the site of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
Mike Plaisance
The Republican / masslive.com
The Holyoke Soldiers' Home was the site of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.

The Massachusetts House passed legislation Thursday reforming governance structures and oversight for the state's two soldiers' homes that supporters say will implement best care practices for veterans and prevent tragedies like the fatal COVID outbreak in Holyoke two years ago.

The bill emerged this week and comes on the heels of a reform package offered by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and Sen. Mike Rush, who led an investigation into the deadly spring 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home that left at least 76 residents dead.

The House voted 156-1 to advance the bill (H 4441) and send it over to the Senate for their review, but Dean Campbell was not among the bill's supporters, opting to vote "present" instead.

A second state-run facility is also located in Chelsea. Both would still have separate boards, but each would in part form a statewide council.

State Rep. Pat Duffy of Holyoke said during the debate that this structure provides "the best of both worlds."

"A statewide council so that all regions of the state get the time, energy, oversight, resources," Duffy said, "but we retain local input and local votes."

According to Duffy, a late amendment to the bill requires some members of the local boards to be veterans or family of veterans.

The bill also calls for the superintendents running the soldiers' homes to be certified nursing home administrators, which was not previously a requirement.

The former superintendent at the facility in Holyoke, Bennett Walsh, was not licensed. Walsh faced criminal neglect charges for his decisions during the outbreak, but those charges were dismissed in November.

Adam Frenier contributed to this report.

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