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New Englanders don’t need to look any further than the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to witness firsthand how quickly the COVID-19 virus can sicken and sadly, kill, the veterans and staff who reside and work in these kinds of 24/7, health care facilities. Vermonters can be proud that our state’s only Veterans’ Home in Bennington, has, to date, been able to keep all the veterans and others in their care safe from COVID, but frontline workers at the VVH want Vermonters to know that this effort to prevent an outbreak has had little or nothing to do with VVH management and everything to do with workers pulling together to confront a crisis. This commentary is a result of VVH employees wanting to sound the alarm to the public about why they feel VVH management must be replaced immediately, before another Soldier’s Home outbreak occurs in Bennington.

At this week’s VVH Board of Trustees’ meeting, several employees attended to read a statement to the board from VSEA. It was the latest action in a months-long effort by VVH employees to shine a light on management’s perceived failures.

VSEA’s statement read:

“VSEA stands behind its members’ request to have an outside investigation into complaints filed about Melissa Jackson and Pat Crossman’s management of the Veterans’ Home. Employees were disappointed at the last Board meeting that no action was taken at that time to even further look into what amounts to very serious concerns of the 100+ nursing staff for whom [Melissa] Jackson and [Pat] Crossman are charged, statutorily, with oversight.

“Our members have taken every single step they can to address their concerns informally and without public campaigns. They have gone through the chain of command over and over to no avail. They have brought matters to the Labor Management Committee with no sign of change. They have gone through mediation and the HR processes. But our members know that nothing has been done to adequately address their concerns about poor management, evidenced by zero changes. Their concerns have not been addressed. We urge you all as members of the Board of Trustee to fulfill your duty and your oath by taking employees’ concerns seriously and conducting an objective and thorough investigation into the very serious concerns VSEA members have brought forward.”

Here are some examples of how VVH management has dropped the ball since the pandemic appeared in Vermont months ago:

Staff were treating veterans suspected of being COVID-positive without being given the proper PPE. Management, at the time, would not be transparent with employees about its stockpile of N-95 masks and how many were available to staff. Management also promised for months (since January) that staff would be fit tested, but they never were.

Employees had to fight management to establish a better protocol to test visitors at the door before they gained entry to the building. Prior to employees speaking out, the onus was on visitors, who were expected to “find” a nurse upon entry and get checked out.

Employees who wore a mask on the job, prior to the CMS mandate, felt retaliated against by management for wanting to self-protect and keep others safe.

The Home’s administrator took a two-day trip to Washington, D.C. (a hot zone, at the time) and immediately came back into the Home upon return, without properly quarantining.

Management has refused to work cooperatively with employees to keep COVID out of the Home, which has left employees no other choice than to pull together in solidarity and depend on each other for support and guidance. Make no mistake, there has been no COVID inside the Vets’ Home because of the vigilance and dedication of the workers, not management.

VSEA’s VVH members are urging Vermonters, especially those of you in Bennington, to hear their alarm when others, sadly, will not — and lend them your support. There’s a second wave of COVID making its way around the country right now, and VVH workers are scared, but they will do their best again to protect their residents and themselves. However, they are truly in dire need of competent managers who we can trust to be making the right decisions in these difficult times. That trust does not currently exist, and this is hurting the residents, their families and the frontline workers. It’s time for a change at the top.

Aimee Towne is president of the Vermont State Employees’ Association.


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