Workers represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, SEIU Local 888, and NAGE SEIU call for a new permanent superintendent with long-term care credentials and a kind and respectful vision for the future of the Home
HOLYOKE, Mass. – Three unions representing workers at the Holyoke Soldiers Home – the Massachusetts Nurses Association, SEIU Local 888, and NAGE SEIU– have joined together to advocate for safer and more supportive conditions for staff and veterans as the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 tragedy at the Home approaches. The unions have also made clear recommendations about the new permanent Superintendent the Board of Trustees are in the process of hiring.
“A year after COVID-19 devastated the veterans and staff of the Holyoke Soldiers Home, the employees, through their respective unions, continue to advocate for critical changes to improve the safety and well-being of everyone at the Home,” the unions said. “Despite a year of investigations, public hearings and compelling testimony by frontline staff, the state has failed to create a positive and supportive work environment. This failure greatly impacts the ability of staff to provide the best possible and safest care to our veterans.
“The staff at the Soldiers’ Home are an incredibly honorable group of hard-working, dedicated and professional people. Along with the veteran residents, they have endured more than one year of trauma and disregard for their health and safety. They have been betrayed by their previous leaders. They are in dire need of compassion and inclusion. Due to the failure of the Home’s administration, no Veteran who resides there, or staff who worked there throughout the pandemic will ever be the same.
“The same toxic workplace and punitive culture that made it hard to recruit and retain staff before the pandemic are still in place today. A lack of appropriate staffing levels and poor leadership decisions contributed to the tragedy last spring. Those problems persist today.
“Staff suffered significant trauma associated with the breach of trust created by the disturbing and catastrophic medical decisions of the previous administration. In addition to experiencing the loss of so many veterans and the illness of colleagues, the outbreak has been in the news locally, nationally, and internationally, weighing heavy on the minds and hearts of staff.
“Consistent with requirements in long-term care in the private sector, the next superintendent must have qualifications, certification and experience in long-term care. The person appointed must be dedicated and skilled so as to transform the current work environment into a culture of safety based on CDC guidelines for trauma informed processes to protect the staff and residents. The superintendent must be kind, compassionate, and respectful with a willingness to work with the unions. It is critical that the superintendent be visible on the floors and available and supportive of the staff’s hard work.
“The new superintendent must also be someone who will be open and honest with the Veterans, their families, and the community. They must be dedicated to the mission of providing excellent care to Veterans and be someone who fosters a trusting and respectful fair work environment. The superintendent must have no tolerance for a hostile and toxic work environment. They should have a vision for how the Soldiers’ Home will be even better under their leadership. They need to share that vision with the staff and the community, role model and provide leadership with dignity and respect for all.
“In recognition of the upcoming one-year anniversary, all our unions continue to advocate for robust and accessible mental health services for any employee who worked at the Holyoke Soldiers Home from March 1, 2020 to present who requests it.
“The unions have made it clear that they are willing to partner and work collaboratively to create positive changes going forward. However, because the Commonwealth has failed to take meaningful steps or responsibility for the trauma and injury to its own employees, and because staff continue to have a need to heal and be supported in a trauma-informed environment, we will continue to advocate for the immediate transformation of the work environment from one of fear and retaliation to one of safety, compassion, and trust. While plans for building upgrades are exciting and overdue, without proper leadership, safe staffing, and trauma-informed safety in the work and care environment, we fear history will repeat itself. And to that we say: “Never Again.”
Additional recommendations from the unions:
- Increase Nurse staffing by up to twenty (20) full-time equivalent staff positions (FTEs) to attain a veteran to RN ratio that does not exceed 1:6.
- Complete a staffing study done for all positions within the home.
- On-going real time education and instruction that does not blame and discipline staff.
- Develop a staffing recruitment and retention plan.
- Provide ongoing mental health support services to staff who lived through the crisis of 2020.
- Hire an industrial hygienist or occupational health and safety specialists to monitor the HSH.
- Establish a Respiratory Protection Program to comply with regulatory agencies and assure the safety of veterans and staff.
- Initiate education and preparation for the upcoming elastomeric mask program.