BENNINGTON — The leader of the Vermont Veterans' Home's employee union demanded Sunday that home CEO Melissa Jackson explain whether she violated the state's quarantine requirements last week after returning from a trip to Washington, D.C.
In a letter sent to Jackson and subsequently to the media, Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard said that if the report was true, Jackson should resign her position for showing poor judgment.
Howard wrote that he had learned of Jackson's presence at the Veterans' Home on July 30, following a two-day trip to Washington last week to testify before a Congressional subcommittee.
"On behalf of the members of the VSEA who work at VVH and the veterans for whom they provide the highest quality of care, VSEA demands to know if you are in full compliance with Governor [Phil] Scott's quarantine order for Vermonters who travel to and from Washington D.C.," Howard wrote. "It has been reported that you traveled to Washington via Amtrak and that you stayed at least one night in the city, appearing on July 30 at the Veterans' Home in Bennington, obviously without quarantining for 14 days."
Howard went on to say, "I am sure you understand how highly irresponsible it would be for a licensed nursing home administrator to ignore the order of public health officials especially given the fatal impact COVID-19 has had in nursing homes throughout the United States."
He added, "If you have not complied, VSEA calls on you to immediately resign given the poor judgement such an action would demonstrate."
Several hours in office
Jackson told the Banner on Monday that she had stopped at her Veterans' Home office Thursday for several hours and now is observing a quarantine.
"I am quarantining and will return to the office a week from Thursday which will be day 15 from my return from D.C.," she wrote.
The administrator also provided information she said has been shared with the VVH board of trustees.
Jackson added that she "tried to ensure that I followed the guidelines for essential travel and should have started my quarantine on Thursday instead of going into the office. I apologize for my poor judgment."
Jackson was in Washington to testify before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health during a hearing titled, "Who's in Charge? Examining Oversight of State Veterans Homes During the COVID-19 Pandemic."
Jackson is also president of the National Association of State Nursing Homes and was testifying in that role.
Howard noted that he copied Scott on his letter to Jackson. On Monday, Rebecca Kelley, the governor's communications director, responded to a request for comment, saying, "The governor has been briefed on the VSEA letter and the situation. Based on what we know, while it appears the executive director might have used better judgement when entering the facility's administrative offices after returning from work-related essential travel, it also appears she followed COVID health and safety protocols. With that in mind, the governor is not sure it warrants her removal but certainly deserves additional discussion about the need for added vigilance, and extra care and precautions around vulnerable populations."
Train to D.C.
In an email to the Banner, Jackson described the precautions she took during her trip.
"I traveled by Amtrak on Tuesday the 28th by train from Albany to Yonkers," she wrote. "I was the only person in the train car till Yonkers. From Yonkers to NYC there were two other people. From NYC to D.C. there were 10 of us in the train car sitting in assigned seats that made sure we maintained social distancing, every other row."
Jackson added, "I took a cab from the train station to the hotel and stayed there for the night no sightseeing, no out to dinner. The cabs now have plastic between you and the driver and take only credit or debit card payment. The driver wore his mask, I wore mine."
On Tuesday morning, she wrote, there were two cab rides to and from Capitol Hill in Washington, then she rode home on the train with similar social distancing in place.
"I wore my mask at all times except when in my personal car and my hotel room," Jackson said. "I used hand sanitizer frequently and even brought Clorox wipes to wipe down my seats on each train."
She said she left Albany at 8:25 a.m. on Tuesday and returned at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday.
"I was in the office for five hours on Thursday, was screened as we are required, and stayed in my office the entire time," she wrote.
Veterans' Home trustees President Joseph Krawczyk Jr. could not be reached Monday for comment.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien