Baker should require licensed administrator at Holyoke

License no guarantee of success, but it provides benchmark of skills

IT IS 10:37 P.M. From my living room, I can overhear half of a conversation between two nursing home administrators talking about a potentially reportable situation at a local skilled nursing facility. The questioner is my partner, licensed since 1997, and the caller is her colleague, licensed since 2006. Their due diligence is routine; their dedication exceptional.

My partner has worked in post-acute and long-term care for 32 years. She began as a dietitian and is now the regional director of operations for a large not-for-profit organization, overseeing five facilities and a hospice program.

Earlier this week, she read most of the 174-page report on the leadership failures at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and suggested I read it, too. I most certainly will, but for now, it’s difficult to get past the first three pages. As a social worker whose career includes 20 years in long-term care myself, all I can say is that the report’s introduction should come with a content warning for its readers’ well-being.

One need not be journalist Phoebe Judge to view what happened at the Soldiers’ Home as criminal. That so many key decision makers have already been demoted or stepped down is cold comfort. But making matters worse, Gov. Charlie Baker rejected a strong recommendation included in the report: requiring a licensed nursing home administrator to oversee the home. Instead, Baker said, the preference should be that the next superintendent be a licensed administrator.

A licensed administrator runs virtually every other nursing home across the state. Holding a license does not magically confer special powers or incredible acumen, of course. But attaining and maintaining a license is one way to benchmark knowledge, skills, and experience. Dismissing this reality is clearly misguided, not to mention Trumpian, as the Baker administration should easily recall.

In the wake of a 5-year-old’s death during former governor Deval Patrick’s administration, an independent investigation was launched into the Department of Children and Families. The horrific case of Jeremiah Oliver ultimately ushered in a push for increased licensure of state child welfare social workers. In the first year of his tenure, Baker also faced the terrifying case of Bella Bond, which led to another independent investigation at DCF. At the time, Baker said the work of DCF would focus on one major objective: “To keep kids safe.”

Missing children who have been murdered are a far cry from frail octogenarians who have a place to live. Yet, all children and older adults belong to vulnerable populations; those in foster care as well as in long-term care are an order of magnitude more endangered. The fact that some require state assistance should not lessen their odds of receiving the best care possible. Indeed, at-risk people depend on strong government for protection and advocacy, as COVID-19 has reminded us all.

Meet the Author

Sarah Wright

Owner, Social Work in Progress
I recently became licensed in the state of New York. This adds to my other social work licenses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. To say that I believe in licensure is obvious; to say that I want Charlie Baker to see the light is evident. He can demonstrate this by hiring a licensed nursing home administrator for the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. And here in Massachusetts, there are many more licensed administrators than there are actual nursing homes.

Sarah Wright is a resident of Lee, the owner of Social Work in Progress, and a board member at the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.