Members of the unions that represent workers at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home have issued a statement of no confidence in a decision by state officials to allow their embattled superintendent to return to the job.
In a letter dated Sept. 28, union leaders said they were issuing a statement of no confidence in a decision by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Cheryl Poppe’s and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders’ to return Superintendent Eric Johnson to work. Johnson has been on paid admin leave since June, under investigation for allegations including sexual harassment and bullying. The state has made the decision to return him to his role next week. The unions said they are “vehemently” opposed to his return, saying he “continues to foster an environment of hostility” and puts the veterans and employee safety at risk.
The letter notes that there have been “numerous grievances” filed regarding Johnson’s behavior while at the workplace and that some union members are now fearful about potential retaliation related to their participation in the investigations surrounding him.
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A Department of Veterans Services spokesperson issued the following statement in response:
"Superintendent Eric Johnson resumes his responsibilities at the Chelsea Soldiers' Home effective Monday, October 3, 2022. In addition, Robert Engell, Assistant Secretary for DVS, and a licensed nursing home administrator, will be providing greater support and oversight to the Home effective immediately. We are unable to comment on pending labor relations matters."
NBC10 Boston reached out to Johnson, who said he had no comment.
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Employee details his experience with Johnson
An employee who filed a complaint against Johnson spoke with NBC10 Boston Friday. He said he fears retaliation after that complaint was found unsubstantiated.
Marc Belizair, a certified nursing assistant, said Johnson created a toxic work environment for everyone, screaming at him and others in front of patients.
"I do my job the way I'm supposed to do it – and he says shut up son I said oh no this is too much," he said. "he says I told you to shut up and his hand is in my face."
Belizair said the worst of it happened in March, when he says Johnson directed a homophobic slur at him in front of his coworkers, asking if he was queer and if he dressed up as a woman at night.
Belizair is back working at the home. He disagrees with the state's finding on his complaint.
"I feel humiliated, disrespected, I can't sleep at night."
Johnson was appointed to his role in December 2020 and has been on leave since June.
The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home has already been under scrutiny for its fumbled handling of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-one veterans died at the home from COVID-19, deaths that some say could have been prevented with better management of the outbreak. The tragedy prompted changes to the overall management and oversight at state-run long-term care facilities for veterans.