HOLYOKE — State officials announced three new leaders in veterans’ health care on Thursday, signaling what appears to be a new dawn after COVID-19 ravaged the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke over the spring.
While the superintendent’s position has not been filled in Holyoke, the new second-in-command at the site will be retired U.S. Army infantry officer Glen Hevy, now the senior operations official for patient care services at the VA Bedford Healthcare System, a 400-bed facility.
Also at the Bedford VA, Hevy served as chief of the sensory and physical rehabilitation service, and an investigator for equal opportunity employer policies in the Office of Resolution Management.
His appointment appears to reflect a call for new leaders at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who combine both military and medical experience. Reached by telephone Thursday, Hevy declined to comment. He is set to take the new position in Holyoke on Dec. 21.
While the novel coronavirus rained disastrous results on many long-term care facilities, the impact was particularly tragic at the state-run nursing home for veterans in Holyoke.
At least 76 veterans lost their lives to the disease. Dozens more were sickened, along with many staff. The facility continues to struggle amid the pandemic, with 11 new staff diagnoses and one resident case reported this week.
Former Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former medical director Dr. David Clinton were indicted for criminal neglect over the death toll. They have pleaded not guilty to 10 criminal charges each.
The state in March appointed Val Liptak, CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, as an emergency interim director. She is leaving this month and the search for a permanent replacement continues.
In addition to Hevy, the state announced a new deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services, Eric Sheehan, currently acting superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea. He replaced Cheryl Lussier Poppe, who assumed the role of secretary of Veterans’ Services after Francisco Urena was forced to resign in the wake of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home fiasco.
The deputy positions at both the state level and at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home were vacant when the pandemic exploded, which watchdogs identified as a weakness.
“I’m pleased to announce the appointment of distinguished health care professionals and military veterans to leadership roles at the Department of Veterans’ Services and the Commonwealth’s Soldiers’ Homes as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement.
“The veterans in the Commonwealth deserve the highest quality services and care possible, and I look forward to the contributions of these new leaders who will work with Secretary Poppe to continually enhance our services and systems for the Commonwealth’s veteran community,” Sudders said.
Sheehan is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with extensive public service at the federal and state level, according to state officials. He worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he was chief administrative officer for the Veterans Benefits Administration and assistant chief financial officer for the Veterans Health Administration.
Prior to joining the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea in March 2019, Sheehan was director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality at the state Department of Public Health.
Stepping into Sheehan’s role as the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home superintendent is Eric Johnson, a licensed nursing home administrator and U.S. Army veteran.
Johnson comes to Chelsea from Norwood Healthcare and Rehab, where he has been executive director since 2018. Prior to Norwood, Johnson was executive director at two other skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts.
The leadership moves are part of a series of reforms promised by Gov. Charlie Baker, who also was shocked into accelerating major capital improvements at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home following the crisis.
The state is pushing to complete a plan for a refurbished or new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home by April. The state Legislature has held a series of public hearings before a special investigative committee to advance reforms at the facility.