Retired U.S. Airforce Lt. Colonel John Paradis, the former deputy superintendent at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, where 76 veterans have died from COVID-19, said the state has long ignored the facility’s desperate needs.
Last week, Paradis told the Massachusetts Joint Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee during a hearing on Gov. Charlie Baker's Holyoke Soldiers' Home reform bill, that he resigned from his position in 2015 because the commonwealth failed to understand the necessary resources needed for the facility to provide its veterans with the best care.
Paradis said chronic staffing shortages, mandated overtime, and the need of infrastructure facility upgrades caused many problems for the Soldiers' Home, but he said his biggest frustration as deputy superintendent came from trying to make state leadership understand these problems.
Paradis said that despite voicing these concerns, the state still did not respond sufficiently enough for the Soldiers' Home to carry out its mission: “Care with honor and dignity.”
“We clearly were not meeting those expectations — from the feedback we were receiving from our staff, the veteran residents, and, most importantly, from the family members, who every day would see the shortcomings and how difficult it was to be able to provide the level of care that we felt was necessary for our veterans to be able to live with dignity,” Paradis told Greater Boston host Jim Braude during an interview Monday.
During his tenure, Paradis worked under both former Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and the Baker administration. Paradis said that although the situation was not getting much better under Patrick, positive conversations were beginning to happen at the end of his administration. These conversations ended when Baker took over, Paradis said.
“We were starting to get traction and starting to have a conversation with then-Secretary [John] Polanowicz with the executive office of health and human services, to really get an understanding of what we needed to do to move forward. And then after the Baker administration came in with really a campaign of austerity — we didn’t get anywhere after that,” he said.
Thestate report on the deaths at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke released last month laid much of the blame on superintendent Bennett Walsh, who is currently on administrative leave. The report said that Walsh and his administration made "substantial errors" that led to the 76 deaths.
Paradis said he doesn’t think Walsh is the only one who should be blamed for the deaths.
“This happened on the Baker and Polito administration’s watch,” Paradis said. “In my opinion, many of us who have read the report think there are certainly some omissions in the report that don’t look at some of the underlying contributors to the pandemic that really, in our mind, fall much higher up the chain of command.”
During his testimony last week, Paradis called for the Joint Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee to not take action on Baker’s Holyoke Soldiers' Home reform bill, meant to improve oversight and operations at the Home. Paradis said that he just wants to make sure that the state gets it right this time, for the veterans and their family members.
“We want to make sure we have a voice in this process. They should be listening to us, how we want to live in a long-term care facility. This is going to impact us for the rest of our lives, and we want to make sure the state gets that right,” Paradis said.