No one would confuse the Chelsea Soldiers' Home for luxury housing, but a scathing new report by State Auditor Suzanne Bump along with a visit from 5 Investigates shows that one of the oldest veterans homes in the country is in serious need of repair at best. At worst, according to the auditor's report, it's forcing veterans to live in "unsafe and unsanitary living conditions".
"It's inexcusable," Bump told 5 Investigates' Karen Anderson.
Watch https://secure.in.gov/isdh/24955.htm report
The Chelsea Soldiers' Home was originally built for Civil War veterans, and some of the buildings are more than 100 years old. For veterans like Bob Guerriero, its a place that for $300 per month can be the only home they can afford.
Guerriero invited 5 Investigates onto the 20-acre campus, and we found what appeared to be mold in showers, an expired elevator inspection, out of order washing machines and signs everywhere of peeling paint and overdue maintenance.
Then there are the bed bugs.
"I've had a bit of a problem," Guerriero, a Navy veteran, said, showing us the evidence of what he said was a bed bug infestation in his room that was only recently eradicated. "I'd risk carrying the bed bugs wherever I'd go.
Bump's auditing team found more problems, including evidence of leaking water or sewage "directly over a food preparation area." There were numerous signs of rodent droppings, including on a windowsill directly over a food warming table.
"Deplorable. It just simply shouldn't have been allowed to exist," Bump said.
Bump said half of the 20 rooms her team inspected were unsafe and unsanitary. Some had dangerous amounts of clutter, overloaded electrical outlets and chipping paint. They found what appeared to be human waste left in a resident's room.
"It's disgusting and it looks like it's been there for some time as well, which is the most disheartening aspect of it," Bump said.
The auditor found the home's own inspections were lacking, with rooms that should have been checked a total of 480 times in two years inspected just 23 times instead.
The Chelsea Soldiers Home told the Auditors Office that the unsafe and unsanitary conditions have been repaired, and supplied pictures showing all of the instances of disrepair had been fixed.
The home also told the auditor they are increasing inspections of veteran's rooms and the other buildings, and staff will be reminded about how to Bed Bug Killers report maintenance issues.
No one from the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker would go on camera to discuss the Soldiers Home, but a state Department of Veterans Services spokesperson said in a statement: As acknowledged in the audit, the Chelsea Soldiers Home took immediate steps to address and remedy the concerns raised, and is committed to meeting the current and anticipated needs of our aging veterans while fulfilling its mission to provide, with honor and dignity, the highest quality services to Massachusetts veterans.
The administration has made a significant investment in the Chelsea campus and is in the process of planning a proposed $120 million redevelopment.
But the auditors report released this week is hardly the only time the Soldiers Home in Chelsea has come under scrutiny, from press reports to a critical 2014 federal audit.
Some real hard questions have to be asked about the future of this facility and how we are going to make it right, Bump said.