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Western Mass. lawmaker says new report highlights need for reform at Holyoke Soldiers' Home

The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Jesse Costa
The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

A western Massachusetts lawmaker said a new report on the Holyoke Soldiers' Home highlights why legislation to improve oversight of the facility is so important.

At least 76 veterans at the home died after a COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.

In the 91-page report, the state Office of the Inspector General concluded that former superintendent Bennett Walsh was not suited for the position.

"Superintendent Walsh did not have and did not develop the leadership capacity or temperament for the role of superintendent, during his nearly four years on the job. He
created a negative work environment, engaged in retaliatory behavior, demonstrated a lack of engagement in the Home’s operations, circumvented the chain of command and bristled against supervision," the report reads.

State Sen. John Velis, of Westfield, sits on a conference committee currently reconciling differences between House and Senate versions of bills focused on the home and a second facility for veterans in Chelsea.

"It's led to our conclusion that the legislation that we are going to release is going to be unambiguous and no one is going to be able to question what authority rests with what person," he said.

The report also concluded that Gov. Charlie Baker lacked the statutory authority to appoint Walsh even though he did so.

In a statement, Baker's office said his administration is currently reviewing the report and that working with the legislature to strengthen oversight of the facility.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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