Massachusetts Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro sent a strongly-worded letter to outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders this week criticizing her office's handling of the ongoing issues at the Chelsea Soldiers' Home.
The inspector general said his office reviewed eight reports from Sudders' office in recent weeks, along with dozens of complaints about the home and its management. The inspector general's office is an independent agency that helps prevent and detects fraud, waste and abuse in government spending.
"Together, these reports paint a grim picture of the Home's treatment of the veterans who live there, and a concerning portrait of the superintendent's leadership and the work environment at the Home," Shapiro wrote in his letter. "Equally troubling is that EHS has been aware of these issues since at least the summer of 2022 but has not taken significant corrective action."
He said two of the reports described "unacceptable" living conditions and care for some of the home's veterans.
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A July 12, 2022 report focused on the conduct of a certified nurse assistant and concluded that veterans at the home had been found lying "soaked in urine and sitting in feces." A member of the nursing staff also failed to use the proper equipment to move a patient "many times," and performance issues on the nursing staff were reportedly "going unchecked."
In August of 2022, a senior member of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services wrote that at least a dozen rooms were in "terrible" condition, with "feces, dead rodents, dirt and bugs present," which Shapiro said points to a "catastrophic failure" of the home's leadership.
You can read the full letter below:
Emails to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans' Services were not immediately returned Thursday.
Shapiro's letter also says Superintendent Eric Johnson "lacks the capacity and integrity" to manage the home. It also references retaliation, saying it was "reasonable" for one employee to conclude that he was "being targeted for retaliation." He said other reports found that the superintendent "lacked candor" and did not answer investigators' questions honestly and completely. Some reports also concluded that the superintendent's actions violated the state or the home's policies.
Last fall, members of the unions that represent workers at the Chelsea Soldiers' Home issued a statement of no confidence in a decision by state officials to allow Johnson to return to work. He had been on paid administrative leave since June, under investigation for allegations including sexual harassment and bullying.
"The issues discussed above strongly indicate that the Home is not functioning properly and that the leadership is actively failing," Shapiro said. "Many of these issues echo those the Office found at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home between 2016 and early 2020. After reviewing the management practices at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, the Office made numerous, detailed recommendations for the improvement of management practices at both of the Commonwealth’s Soldiers’ Homes that were designed to prevent many of the issues that are now occurring at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home."
The inspector general goes on to recommend that Sudders, who is stepping down from her post effective Thursday, provide a "complete, transparent briefing" to her successor.