Veterans tell Baker: Listen to us

A day after independent investigator Mark Pearlstein released his scathing report on what went wrong with the coronavirus outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, Gov. Charlie Baker released a bill that would implement several reforms recommended by the report.

These include things like hiring a health care leader to advise the secretary of veterans’ services, changing the composition of the facility’s board of trustees, implementing a permanent staffing schedule, implementing electronic medical records, improving training, and enhancing inspections.

But now veterans are telling Baker: Not so fast.

Advocates at a public hearing this week asked lawmakers to delay acting on the bill. The main reason is that veterans do not feel like they’ve been heard.

In written testimony obtained by CommonWealth, former deputy superintendent John Paradis, who resigned from his job at the home in 2015, said he and a coalition of concerned veterans oppose the bill because of the lack of outreach by the Baker administration.

“We believe there must be an active outreach effort by this committee to receive feedback on this bill and on the best path forward for the Soldiers’ Home in a way that is inclusive and takes into consideration the input and views of those who know the Home the best – the staff, to include their union representation; the Veteran residents and their family members who are their health care proxies; and we as Veterans who may someday require long-term care as a resident at the Soldiers’ Home,” Paradis said.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, a Northampton Democrat, said similarly that she is happy the Legislature created its own oversight commission to examine the failures at the home and make recommendations, because the administration’s response was not inclusive enough. “I put my trust in you to include, in that process, the residents, their families, and the staff of the Holyoke Soldiers home because as a Western Mass native, I want to stress that those voices do not feel like they were included in crafting the legislation before you today,” Sabadosa told members of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.

Eric Segundo, past state commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Massachusetts, said Baker’s bill “clearly needs much more examination and demands much greater discussion with Veteran groups across the state.”

Others – including former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home superintendent Paul Barabani, who retired in January 2016, and Delfo Barabani, president of a Western Massachusetts chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America — asked for a delay until multiple additional investigations have been completed, including the work of the legislative oversight committee. “The reports of the other investigations and the input from groups such as the Holyoke Soldiers Home Coalition, could contain valuable insights, leading to a better, more comprehensive result,” Delfo Barabani said.

The State House News Service reported that committee members do not appear to be rushing to pass the bill before the scheduled end of legislative sessions on July 31. Committee House chair Linda Dean Campbell, who is also co-chairing the legislative committee investigating the Soldiers’ Home, said, “Our goal is to take our time and get this right.”

On Tuesday, the Soldiers’ Home board of trustees took its own step toward reforms, voting to endorse numerous changes to the home’s management in light of Pearlstein’s report.

MassLive reported that these include ending the Soldiers’ Home exemption from licensing inspections, hiring an occupational nurse to ensure proper staffing levels, creating an electronic record-keeping system, and requiring that either the superintendent or deputy superintendent hold a license to be a nursing home administrator.

No doubt, the Baker administration wanted to release the bill quickly to show it was taking Pearlstein’s report seriously. But next time, state officials may want to listen before they leap.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


FROM COMMONWEALTH

What happened to the big push for new transportation revenue on Beacon Hill?

Sen. Nick Collins, one of just three senators representing majority-minority districts, is facing heat over his ‘no’ vote on the Senate police reform bill.

A new poll shows minority and low-income families are more likely to have changed college plans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A bill limiting interaction between local police and federal immigration authorities is moving out of committee.

The pandemic is proving devastating to the state’s arts and culture sector.

Opinion: Brian Moran argues that the state should hit the brakes on the Transportation Climate Initiative because the pandemic is resetting traffic and commuting patterns…. Charles Gagnon says frontline behavioral health workers are saving lives, too.


FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

Joan Vennochi says it’s not just Charlie Baker who seems scared of taking on the State Police (the topic of a previous column) — she lights up Maura Healey on the issue as well.

State budget-writers are still awaiting news about whether there will be a federal bailout. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Globe editorial urges the House to pass the police reform bill passed earlier this week by the state Senate.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Methuen police chief is fighting with city councilors over whether he needs to take a 10-day furlough like all other city department heads. (Eagle-Tribune)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The first COVID-19 vaccine is poised for final testing. (Associated Press)

The state’s Public Health Council is considering making mask-wearing rules permanent. (Gloucester Daily  Times)

South Shore Hospital opens the state’s first emergency room for pregnant women in Weymouth. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Sen. Ed Markey, in an editorial board meeting with the Springfield Republican, predicts an “epic battle” over the next coronavirus stimulus bill.

Live free and die? Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signs an executive order forbidding local authorities from imposing mask mandates as the state battles a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Joe Kennedy is getting slammed for a new ad decrying the “wait your turn” mentality that favors entrenched incumbents, since he was singing a very different tune two years when he backed incumbents Michael Capuano and Jeff Sanchez, who both went on to lose to insurgent primary challengers. (Boston Herald)

Joe Battenfeld rips Sen. Ed Markey — the entrenched incumbent Kennedy is challenging — for sending out taxpayer-funding mailings that boost his campaign. (Boston Herald)

From the pot to the fire: Republicans, who moved their national convention from North Carolina to Florida because the party chafed at public health restrictions being imposed by the Tar Heel State, will now hold a scaled back event in a state where coronavirus is exploding. (Washington Post)

Lagging badly in polls, President Trump replaces his campaign manager. (New York Times)

The White House says it wants nothing to do with a USA Today op-ed by trade advisor Peter Navarro that ripped Dr. Anthony Fauci on the same grounds that President Trump and administration communications staff have been citing to reporters. (Washington Post)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Few black-owned businesses received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. (The Salem News)

Coronavirus safety measures being taken by fish-plant workers in New Bedford could become best practices elsewhere. (The Public’s Radio)

A national study of housing costs found the average Brockton-area renter would need to work 2.5 full-time jobs to afford a typical 2-bedroom apartment. (The Enterprise)

EDUCATION

Frequent testing will be part of any campus reopening this fall at Massachusetts colleges and universities. (Boston Globe)

Harvard professor Steven Pinker is under attack by fellow academics, not for any scholarly work, but over half a dozen tweets dating back to 2014 and a two-word phrase in a 2011 book. (New York Times)

Worcester schools are considering eliminating part of their dress code related to a ban on head coverings that critics said was culturally and ethnically insensitive to those who wear hair wraps or religious coverings. (Telegram & Gazette)

Now that the Washington Redskins are changing their name what about the 37 Massachusetts schools that use a Native American caricature or nickname as their mascot? (Boston Globe)

Superintendent Thomas Anderson has signed a five-year contract to continue leading the New Bedford Public Schools district. (Standard-Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

Cultural nonprofits in Massachusetts have lost at least $425 million due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The industry needs $117 million to reopen safely. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority is reminding the public that the ferry line has the right to refuse passage to people who refuse to wear facial covering. (Cape Cod Times)

The MBTA is resuming front-door boarding on buses. (Boston Herald)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Tidal flooding in Boston, which is already bad, is poised to get much worse, according to a new study. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

NPR listenership has plummeted amidst the pandemic, especially during the morning and evening commuting hours when the public radio network audience included lots of people driving to and from work. (NPR)

The Daily Hampshire Gazette explains why it will cease running its own printing operations – after the union representing the 29 workers employed there accuse the paper of “union busting.” (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The last daily paper in Wyoming has changed its printing schedule, making it the first time a US state will publish no newspapers on Monday mornings. (Nieman Lab)

Media critic Dan Kennedy argues that it’s time to end the legislative exemption to the state’s public records law. (WGBH)