Senator Timilty leads hearings on Soldiers’ Home deadly COVID-19 outbreak
BOSTON, 01.21.2021 – State Senator Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton) co-chaired a public hearing, seeking answers to the most fundamental elements of staffing issues and management qualifications that likely contributed to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, MA. Timilty is co-chair of the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Special Joint Oversight Committee on the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 Outbreak.
In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak this past spring, 76 veterans died due to the spread of the virus throughout the Soldiers’ Home.
This was the fifth public hearing held by the oversight committee seeking answers to this tragedy. During a hearing that exceeded six hours, seven witnesses were questioned by Senator Timilty and other members of the special oversight committee. The complement of witnesses included: Secretary Marylou Sudders, Secretary Cheryl Poppe, Massachusetts National Guard Adjutant General Gary Keefe, staff, a trustee and an expert in the profession of long-term care. A sixth hearing is to be held February 9, 2021.
“These hearings are critical to ensure that this horrific tragedy never reoccurs. This special oversight committee is dedicated to both determining and evaluating the actions that led to the spread of this insidious virus, throughout the Soldiers’ Home. Our veterans deserve the very best. Additionally, the answers that these hearings reap will help us to enhance the quality of care for our brave veterans as we move forward,” said Timilty.
The special oversight committee will be offering recommendations in its report due by March 31, 2021. The report will be based on information obtained through testimony and research under the leadership of Timilty and fellow co-chair, State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell.
During the public hearing, Timilty questioned Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who leads the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Response Command Center. During his line of questioning, Timilty asked the secretary as to whether the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home should continue to be exempt from operating under the supervision of a nursing home administrator who is licensed. Massachusetts General Laws require nursing home administrators to be licensed, but this is not applicable to administrators that are running state facilities.
Sudders stated that the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke lacked the internal processes to withstand a pandemic. “More fundamental is that there was not the internal processes, clinical management, and operations, to withstand a pandemic. I don’t think one person [a licensed supervisor] would have been able to stop that,” said Sudders.
Testimony indicated that high levels of staffing turnover was of major concern.
Timilty questioned Sudders as to how the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home can rebuild its’ workforce.
Sudders pointed out that there was a lack of permanent schedules, leading to the staffing issues. Since the outbreak, permanent staffing schedules have been implemented. Additionally, she added that recruitment efforts are ongoing.
“Scheduling was a problem. Turnover rates were high,” she said.
Moreover, Massachusetts National Guard Adjutant General Gary Keefe, Chairman of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Board of Trustees, offered testimony.
“In your role as Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, what was your initial reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in March 2020,” asked Timilty. The National Guard was deployed to the Soldiers’ Home to assist in the emergency response to the coronavirus outbreak in March of 2020.
Keefe replied, “It was bedlam.”
Joan Miller, a nurse speaking for the Massachusetts Nurses Association at the hearing, said, “Staffing is a direct reason the crisis was what it was.”