Thursday, November 30, 2023
HomeVeterans AdministrationCan Maura Healey fix the Chelsea Veterans’ Home?

Can Maura Healey fix the Chelsea Veterans’ Home?

Instead the building, to be called the Community Living Center, sits empty. An official from Governor Maura Healey’s Executive Office of Veterans’ Services said veterans will not begin moving in until the summer, at the earliest. The transition to the new facility may not be completed until the fall of 2024, according to timetables released by the state. It is “still a construction site,” one state official said.
CHELSEA — On the hilltop campus of the Chelsea Veterans’ Home — overlooking industrial yards and the Mystic River — sits a gleaming $200 million building of glass and stone. The structure was scheduled to open by the fall of 2022 as the new home for the most medically vulnerable veterans who are currently living in a decrepit, decades-old hospital next door.
At the Chelsea Veterans’ Home campus some buildings are condemned, while a new modern building rises. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
It is also, in its incomplete state, a symbol of how far the state still needs to go in caring for needy veterans, here and at the other homes the state runs in Holyoke. Policing their care was one of the more conspicuous failures of the Baker administration, and is now a complex puzzle that falls to Governor Maura Healey to solve.
The troubles in Holyoke are well known — 76 veterans died of COVID there in the early months of the pandemic. That tragedy led to criminal charges (since dropped) against the home’s former superintendent and scathing investigations by state agencies and the press.
The Chelsea home drew much less notice, although there were 31 COVID deaths there, along with allegations of mistreatment of veterans and complaints of negligent management.
Brenda D’Errico sat with her mother, Delma Terenzio, 93, as she held the framed flag of her deceased husband, Joseph Terenzio. Terenzio, a Silver Star WWll veteran, died in March 2019 at the Chelsea Veterans’ Home at the beginning of an outbreak that killed 31 residents. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Now a reckoning is underway. Healey moved quickly to fire the Chelsea home’s superintendent and tapped a well-respected veteran and doctor to oversee both homes.
A Globe review underscores the scale and complexity of the challenge Healey has inherited.
State records obtained by the Globe reveal that mistreatment of veterans — including improperly restraining them and leaving them in soaked and dirtied diapers — has persisted at the home for at least three years and under the watch of four superintendents.
Records of human resources complaints and interviews with current and former employees describe a workplace riven by infighting and political feuds that have undermined the home’s operations and continue to divide the workforce to this day. The staff divisions, employees and officials said, stem from the tumultuous tenure of the former superintendent, Eric Johnson, who was fired by Healey.
Chelsea Veterans’ Home Superintendent Eric Johnson Chelsea Record
Meanwhile, the state’s official watchdog, Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro, is scrutinizing alleged financial malfeasance, including questionable overtime practices. Shapiro’s office has called at least half a dozen officials to testify this year, some as material witnesses and some as targets, according to current and former employees of the home familiar with the investigation’s progress.
The danger for veterans is that the turmoil will undermine efforts by the Healey administration and her new Secretary of Veterans’ Services, Dr. Jon Santiago, to modernize the homes and avoid the pitfalls of the Baker years.
Some critics have questioned Healey’s decision to keep on senior veterans’ services officials from the previous administration and key leaders at the Chelsea home. Baker’s secretary of Veterans’ Services, Cheryl Poppe, who hired and at times defended Johnson, is now a senior adviser to Santiago. And some of Johnson’s allies remain in senior roles at the Chelsea home.
Secretary of Veterans Services Cheryl Poppe in 2021 Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
“We are at a critical point for the Chelsea Veterans’ Home,” said state Senator John Velis, co-chair of the Legislature’s veterans’ affairs committee. In his own inquiries, he said, he found that the “home had deteriorated into chaos.”
“With a new administration,” he said, “we have an opportunity to set this ship right. Failure is not an option.”
Santiago said that “these past few years have been incredibly difficult for our veteran community. They deserve our very best and as a fellow veteran myself, I’m committed to … ensuring that our office can honorably serve those who served us.”
The veterans who live at the Chelsea home are by and large hard-luck men who have suffered from poverty, homelessness, or addiction. About half of them live semi-independently in dormitories; the other half receive long-term care in the home’s hospital.
Alonzo Glenn was among them. On the evening of May 26 last year, Glenn, a 70-year-old Navy veteran, collapsed on a sidewalk just down the hill from the Chelsea home, where he lived. According to fire and police records, first responders treated Glenn with Narcan, a drug overdose medication. But it was too late.
Glenn died that night from a drug overdose, according to four employees of the home.
His death prompted staff to survey rooms in the dormitory where he had lived, according to current and former employees. The summer 2022 review turned up horrible conditions, which were later summarized in a letter from Inspector General Shapiro to the Baker administration.
“At least a dozen rooms,” Shapiro wrote, contained “feces, dead rodents, dirt and bugs.” In interviews, employees said blood and drugs were also discovered. The conditions were so bad that the home hired a hazardous materials contractor, Triumvirate Environmental, to help with the cleanup, an employee said.
Current employees spoke with the Globe on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the home’s supervisors, some of whom are holdovers from the Baker administration.
The filthy conditions were a symptom of deeper problems during Johnson’s time in charge, which began in December 2020 when he was hired by Poppe.
Although overdose deaths had occurred during the tenures of previous superintendents, employees said that Johnson’s disengaged management style heightened the risk.
Two employees said Johnson didn’t take action to stem the flow of drugs into the home or to get veterans addicted to opioids the outside treatment they needed.
In August 2022, another resident overdosed — and survived — on the home’s campus, three employees said.
Johnson did not respond to requests for comment or to written questions.
His alleged inadequacies as an administrator drew high level notice.
In an August 2022 report, a senior official from the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services wrote that Johnson “lacks candor, professionalism, judgment and does not seem to possess leadership skills.” (Shapiro’s letter quoted from this report.) In interviews, employees described Johnson as mercurial — collegial with some senior leaders but sometimes menacing with lower level staffers.
Johnson’s critics also alleged that he gained the loyalty of some staffers with overtime payments and promotions. The home’s top nursing official, Shereda Grossett, was the most notable beneficiary, employees said.
During one period, from October 2021 to May 2022, Grossett earned more than $105,000 in overtime and other pay on top of her regular pay for those months of approximately $75,000, according to payroll records obtained by the Globe through a public records request.
Johnson had also promoted Grossett to director of nursing despite her comparatively slender qualifications. She had limited management experience and, at the time of the promotion, she had been a registered nurse for only 3½ years.
The Healey administration has kept Grossett as head of the home’s nursing staff.
A lawyer for Grossett said her client “had the approval for her hard work and remains emphatic that she did nothing wrong.” Johnson was responsible for approving Grossett’s time cards, three employees said. The Inspector General is scrutinizing Grossett’s overtime pay, according to investigative records.
Grossett’s responsibilities include overseeing the home’s nurses and nursing aides to ensure they provide high-quality care to veterans. But some employees said she has been a distant and, at times, absent manager.
During the second half of last year, Grossett was paid for more than 380 hours — the equivalent of 51 work days — that she did not work at the Chelsea home, according to payroll records obtained by the Globe through a public records request. The pay was for telework, sick time, vacation, “Leave with Pay,” and “Comp Time,” according to the records.
The Inspector General wrote in his letter, quoting from a state report his office obtained, that “performance issues on the nursing staff were ‘going unchecked’” during Grossett’s tenure as nursing director. Veterans, he wrote, had been found “sitting in feces” or left wearing two soaked-through diapers.
The turmoil from the Johnson era has persisted into the Healey administration. Although Johnson himself is gone, the home’s workforce remains divided between those who supported or defended him and those who did not.
The factions break down roughly like this: Grossett, Poppe, and current acting superintendent Robert Engell are on one side. The home’s deputy superintendent Courtenay Galvin and much of the home’s rank-and-file staff are on the other.
Poppe, who was Baker’s secretary of Veterans’ Services, was hired by the Healey administration to advise Santiago.
Galvin, a former Army captain who previously worked as an MBTA investigator, was hired as the home’s second-in-command in January 2022. She soon detected the home’s overtime issues and reported them to state officials, according to three employees and Cory Bombredi, a union official who represented many of the home’s workers last year.
Before he was fired in January, Johnson had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcomes of numerous investigations into the home, according to state e-mails obtained through a public records request and investigative records obtained by the Globe.
During Johnson’s leave, Galvin led the review that turned up the filthy dormitory conditions, according to the employees and Eric Sheehan, a former veterans’ services official.
Galvin’s supporters at the home view her as a whistleblower trying to improve conditions for veterans and root out overtime fraud. Her detractors see her as overzealous and ambitious and say she is not a team player.
As secretary of Veterans’ Services, Poppe treated Galvin as an adversary, the employees said. Last summer, she withdrew some of Galvin’s responsibilities.
“They marginalized her,” one employee said.
Critics say that Poppe’s treatment of Galvin was consistent with a pattern of silencing dissent. In the fall of 2021, she had fired Sheehan after he raised numerous issues about the home’s management. Sheehan and the home’s former nursing director, Beth Scheffler, who was fired after filing a complaint with the Inspector General, are now pursuing a whistleblower lawsuit against Poppe, Johnson, and other defendants.
Poppe did not respond to numerous requests for comment. A lawyer for Galvin declined to comment, saying his client “wishes to focus on her responsibilities as deputy superintendent.”
Santiago now must deal with the infighting during what stands to be a challenging transition. Santiago, an emergency room doctor and Army Reserve major, has no experience in management or in nursing home administration. Weeks into the job, he is hiring a new staff while acquainting himself with the complicated and troubled facilities he now oversees. He has visited the home almost weekly since being sworn in as secretary on March 1.
Meanwhile, approximately 200 veterans in Chelsea continue to live in aging, decrepit buildings while the new facility — bearing the hopes of a better future for the state’s veteran’s home residents — sits empty next door.
Some buildings are condemned, including this one on Crest Street. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Mike Damiano can be reached at



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments

Translate »