By John Paradis and Mimi Panitch: State has right approach to new Soldiers’ Home

  • This May 2018, file photo, shows an aerial view of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. Patrick Johnson/The Republican via AP

Published: 7/22/2021 12:34:28 PM

In light of the surprising one-sidedness of the recent article about Dignity Alliance Massachusetts’ criticisms of the state’s plan for the new Holyoke Soldiers Home facility (“Groups advocate small-house model in Soldiers’ Home project, July 15, 2021”), Gazette readers could be forgiven for wondering whether the current design — one adopted after exhaustive studies, and consultation with the community that included opportunities for comment and involvement for any citizen or group that wished to participate — is really best suited to meet our veterans’ needs.

We write to put any such concerns to rest.

Our Coalition of former health care administrators, leaders of veteran service organizations, family members of veterans who died of COVID-19 at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and other concerned citizens, are emphatically behind the commonwealth’s plan for a new facility in Holyoke.

Here’s why we’re confident that it’s the right approach.

The state proposal reflects an extensive outreach and learning process: it’s not the result of a distant bureaucracy’s fiat. We know: we participated in multiple formal and listening sessions with the state design team and other officials. We provided key input into the design process, and we saw the completed surveys from more than 400 people across the commonwealth indicating the need and popular desire for a new facility along the model the state plan adopts.

And we heard moving testimony about the urgent demand for long-term veteran care able to meet complex medical needs, as well as the need for a facility capable of hosting an Adult Day Health Care program.

What we did not hear was anything from Dignity Alliance Massachusetts, which chose not to participate in these consultations.

If they had, perhaps they would be aware of how badly off the mark their objections are. They complain that the state proposal offers too many beds. Apparently, they missed the fact that there’s a demonstrated need for those 235 proposed beds, at a minimum. Historically the waiting list for an available bed at the Home has run into the hundreds, and most of the applicants demonstrate various levels of dementia, cognitive impairments, or other chronic health conditions requiring immediate assistance.

Yet DAM proposes to shrink the facility to 135 beds at most, and to house other veterans in smaller, hypothetical settings that will not be able to offer the same level of medical support.

They complain that the state proposal is out of touch with 21st century needs. But they fail to acknowledge that the state proposal follows exactly the principles DAM claims to support. The commonwealth incorporated the philosophies of the small home model, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs principles for long-term care, when creating its proposal.

It took the very same approach as it did for the recent design for the new Chelsea Home, which faced no opposition from DAM. In fact, the designs for both Holyoke and Chelsea match the patient-centered care models envisioned in previous state reports and follows the VA’s own guidelines.

The proposed design provides for the small residential community environment that DAM and its allies advocate and does so within a facility that provides immediate access to services and support that could never be made available to multiple scattered small house clusters. Each floor of the proposed Soldiers’ Home will have several so-called “pods,” or neighborhoods, each consisting of private rooms with their own bathrooms, organized around a community living and dining area where veterans will have the company of their peers.

At the same time, all residents will be able to take advantage of in-house services and facilities for everything from necessities like medical and dental care, physical and occupational therapies, and day care to life-enhancing experiences like a recreation center and salon services. It would be impossible to provide such comprehensive care to every one of DAM’s proposed network of small house clusters. At the new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, every resident will have access to such care and their families will have the comfort of knowing it.

The proposed new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke will mark a new era in long-term veteran health care in our state. The new facility will close a chapter on the old traditional, institutionalized model of care and will result in a state-of-the art, dynamic and person-centered model of care. The commonwealth has put forth a state-of-the-art design that, when built, will be the best in the nation and will be the model for veteran long-term care in the post COVID-era.

We invite the public to read the state’s VA grant application to learn more, and we are confident that readers will agree that it is an exceptional and well-researched design.

Paradis and Panitch are members of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition and were principal co-authors of this guest column. Paradis lives in Florence and is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a former deputy superintendent at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. Panitch lives in Holyoke and is an attorney. She is a member of the Holyoke Planning Board and Holyoke community preservation act committee. Several other coalition members, too many to list here, also contributed to this column.




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