The head of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services was confronted at a meeting today by residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, family members, and veterans’ advocates over staffing levels and state financial support for the long-term care facility, which is undergoing a management shakeup.
Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco Urena defended the Baker administration’s commitment to the state-owned veterans’ home in western Massachusetts, where the superintendent and his deputy said Wednesday they are quitting their jobs out of frustration with the administration’s response to their requests to hire more staff.
Urena said a transition is already under way with the appointment of an interim director for the soldiers’ home.
" We are moving forward and looking to continue the good care that happens here in Holyoke, said. Urena.
Superintendent Paul Barabani, who is technically planning to retire, said he had made several requests to the Department of Veterans’ Services, in writing and in person, during the last year to increase staffing.
" You've given me an impossible mission and failed to provide me with the support I need," he said to Urena. " It is time for me to move on."
Barabani, who has been superintendent at the home since 2011, said while he has increased the number of skilled nurses working at the facility, it has come at the expense of jobs in other departments including maintenance, admissions, and administration. He complained he had been blocked from hiring a chief finance officer.
Deputy Superintendent John Paradis, who has resigned, said the facility is using workers under contract, rather than full-time staff, to replace 46 people who left earlier this year under an early retirement plan the Baker administration promoted to balance the state budget.
" I appeal to the Dept. of Veterans' Services and to the governor to please listen to the staff here and give the home the 100 percent support you have pledged," said Paradis.
Barabani and Paradis spoke publicly for the first time about the reasons for their sudden resignations at a “town hall” meeting of the soldiers’ home board of trustees.
Tony Page, a resident of the home, said the news Barabani and Paradis are leaving is a “bombshell.”
Kate Milligan said her father gets excellent care at the solders’ home now, but she is worried about what will happen in the future.
" I am disappointed with the people in the state who can make a difference." she said.
Urena said the Baker administration strongly supports the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and pointed out that it had been spared from emergency budget cuts earlier this year and funding was increased by 7.5 percent in the current fiscal year.
" Time and time again, we asked for an independent study of the needs at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home," said Urena. " We will have those reports and address the needs of Holyoke to assure we provide quality care."
Urena also rejected comparisons between Holyoke and the state’s other soldiers’ home in Chelsea, which has a larger budget but fewer long-term care patients than Holyoke. He said the services offered at the two institutions are different, Chelsea has more buildings, and the costs of purchasing goods and services are higher in the eastern part of the state.
Gov. Baker, in a letter to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home board of trustees said he is appointing the current superintendent of the Chelsea home, Cheryl Poppe, to be interim director in Holyoke effective Feb. 1st.
The board will form a search committee to identify candidates for the superintendent’s job.