HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The Baker-Polito Administration is set to announce an outline of reforms for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke Thursday.
They’re intended to strengthen the Administration’s governance and oversight of the facility while also improving staffing processes, providing quality care for our veterans, and planning for significant capital improvements.
This comes as a coalition of veterans and supporters conducted several standouts throughout the Pioneer Valley this week to draw awareness and support for major renovations to the Soldiers’ Home.
They want Governor Baker to Immediately approve funding for these improvements. Construction of a new wing for 120 private rooms for veteran residents would be included in the project.
Several veterans organizations have written letters to the Baker-Polito Administration in support of the coalition’s cause, including the military order of the Purple Heart Department of Massachusetts.
Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a series of reforms to improve the operations and oversight of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. On April 1, Governor Charlie Baker ordered an independent investigation into the tragic impact of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and on June 24, Attorney Mark Pearlstein released his findings, including specific recommendations.
According to Brooke Karanovich, Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Administration has laid out a number of reforms in response to the Pearlstein Report plus additional reforms. Karanovich provided 22News with the following reforms:
- Department of Veteran Services Oversight of the Soldiers’ Homes:
- The Department of Veterans’ Services is committed to hiring an experienced healthcare leader to advise the Secretary and provide management support for the two soldiers’ homes in the Commonwealth
- The position of Executive Director/Assistant Secretary has been posted as of June 24
- The Administration is filing legislation clarifying this person’s primary responsibility as supporting the Secretary of Veterans’ Services oversight and management of the soldiers’ homes
- Changes to the Soldiers’ Homes’ Board of Trustees Composition:
- The Administration is filing legislation to make important changes to the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Home Boards so they are consistent entities with consistent powers and duties
- The bill would increase both boards from seven members to nine members – adding two individuals who have a health care background either as a clinician or administrator as well as the Secretary of DVS & the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services as ex officio members.
- Implement a Permanent Staffing Schedule:
- In August 2019, a staffing study was released to lay the foundation for a more permanent staffing schedule at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home
- The interim leadership team at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home conducted a staffing gap analysis to ensure an optimal staffing ratio that aligns with industry standards on Hours Per Patient Day. This new staffing pattern accounts for functional staff call-out rates, vacancies, and the actual acuity of residents
- The leadership team has been working collaboratively with staff and unions to adjust schedules and reallocate staff to ensure full coverage during each shift and respond to resident acuity.
- In agreement with the Unions, the home now is posting schedules in three-month increments in order to provide greater predictability for the staff. The plan is to transition to a permanent staffing schedule during September
- Implement an Electronic Health Record System:
- The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2021 Capital Investment Plan included $2 million for a joint electronic management record system for the two soldiers’ homes.
- On June 23, a procurement for an EMR solution was posted on Commbuys, which begins the process of selecting and contracting with a vendor to implement an EMR.
- The EMR solution will be coupled with both business process redesign and training
- The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home has identified an individual to oversee the EMR implementation project
- Hire a Designated Occupational Health Nurse:
- When the Clinical Command team started on March 30, an Occupational Health nurse temporarily was brought on board through a contract with UMass Medical School/ Commonwealth Medicine
- A permanent position is being recruited through a staff recruitment agency
- Better Education and Training:
- The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home has brought on an executive nurse consultant to focus specifically on education, both general best practices as well as enhanced infection control protocols
- A nurse educator position is posted and actively being recruited for
- In the interim, there have been significant improvements in education and communication for clinical staff, nurse supervisors, and veteran care coordinators. Areas of focus include personal protective equipment and infection control. A computer lab training classroom with 25 computers and a dedicated staff person will go live this summer
- Efforts to Improve Labor Relations:
- The interim leadership team is committed to a collaborative relationship between management and the unions and strives for transparency and open communications.
- Bi-weekly labor-management meetings with the MNA and SEUI 888 have been established to discuss concerns including staffing and scheduling
- Superintendent Qualifications:
- The new posting for the position of Superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home will include a preference for hiring a licensed nursing home administrator
- Increase Inspections at the Home:
- To ensure the Soldiers’ Home is subject to the same state surveys as other long term care facilities in the Commonwealth, the governor is filing legislation that will require annual inspections and more frequent inspections by the Department of Public Health if necessary
According to Karanovich, in addition to the recommendations put forward in the Pearlstein report, the Administration is also committing to several other reforms including the following:
- Capital Improvements
- The Administration has been taking immediate steps to improve the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to support infection control and resident safety now.
- To address urgent issues at the home, $6 million has been allocated to refresh the units and certain furnishings of the building to address priority infection control, resident safety needs, and care. Upgrades underway are to meet hospital-grade physical plant requirements. Renovation work has already begun on the 3rd floor and will be complete this fall so that the veterans currently residing at the Holyoke Medical Center can safely return to the Home
- The Commonwealth has initiated an expedited Capital Project process managed by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. There will be two distinct phases:
- Rapid planning phase from July through fall 2020. This includes the engagement of key stakeholders, completion of a needs assessment, preparation of an expedited project plan, and conducting a designer procurement
- Design Phase starting in late fall 2020. This includes refinement of project scope, budget, schedule, and timelines. This will include a submission for the VA State Home Construction Grant program by the April 15, 2021 deadline
- Employee Assistance
- Since April, there has been a virtual employee assistance program available to all staff in addition to a National Guard chaplain
- Beginning in July, on-site employee assistance will be available for staff
Additional reforms will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead regarding increased family support.