Page 12 - BusinessWest July 6, 2020
P. 12

GBig E Cancellation a Major Blow
John Gormally [email protected]
George O’Brien [email protected]
• • • • •
SALES MANAGER & ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER Kate Campiti [email protected] • • • • • SENIOR WRITER Joseph Bednar [email protected] ••••• ADVERTISING CONSULTANTS Kate Campiti [email protected]
Kathleen Plante [email protected]
Mike Nasuti [email protected]
Danielle Fox [email protected]
Bevin Peters [email protected]
Cindy Sears [email protected]
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 oing back to the early days of the pandemic, one of the the fabric of this region.
overriding questions on the minds of many in this region, Canceling the Big E was certainly the right move from a public- and especially its business community, was: will there be health perspective, and it makes sense on so many levels. But
a Big E? that doesn’t soften the blow for constituencies ranging from large
Late last month, we finally learned the answer: no.
In many ways, that verdict, arrived at after lengthy discussions between Big E organizers and officials in West Springfield, was not unexpected. Looking at the situation objectively, one had to won- der how organizers could possibly stage a fair that draws more than 100,000 people on a good day and keep not only these visitors safe, but also the workers, vendors, and area residents.
It just didn’t seem doable, even to those who really, as in really, wanted the Big E to happen.
And that’s a large constituency, especially within the business community, where many different kinds of ventures benefit greatly from the 17-day fair and the 1.5 million people drawn to it annu- ally. That list includes hotels, restaurants, tent-rental companies, transportation outfits, food vendors, breweries, and many, many more. These businesses have already lost so much to the pandem- ic, and now they’ve suffered perhaps the biggest loss of all.
Indeed, the year-long (at least) challenge of surviving the pan- demic just became a little sterner for all kinds of businesses within the 413.
And the community loses out as well. The Big E isn’t just an annual event, it’s a century-old tradition that has become part of
corporations to homeowners near the fairgrounds who turn their driveways and lawns into parking lots.
Meanwhile, the cancellation of the Big E provides more evi- dence — not that anyone needed any — of just how cruel this pandemic has become for business owners, most of whom have worked diligently to abide by the rules and do everything they can to position themselves to survive COVID-19.
Indeed, so much of this fight to survive involves matters far out of the control of these business owners — from orders to shelter in place to the many details and deadlines (often coming without any real warning) with regard to reopening the economy, to the loss of key customers, such as the Big E and MGM Springfield, which is due to reopen soon after being closed for nearly four months.
As the stories that begin on page 6 clearly show, business own- ers have done whatever they can do to pivot, create new revenue streams, and simply try to weather this storm. But the pandemic keeps throwing more challenges at them, with the Big E’s cancella- tion being the latest.
The silence on Memorial Avenue this September will be deafen- ing. And the blow to the region will be significant. v
  Moving Beyond the Blame Game
Family members of veterans living at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home didn’t need a 174-page review by a for-
mer federal prosecutor to tell them that something went terribly wrong at that facility in March and April, leading to the deaths of 75 residents.
But the report did what it was commis- sioned to do — analyze the facts concern- ing what happened at the home and come to a conclusion as to how this tragedy was allowed to play itself out and answer what was, for a time, the most pressing question about all this: ‘who is to blame?’
Indeed, in the wake of the deaths and hospitalizations at the Soldiers’ Home,
Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature both used the phrase ‘get to the bottom of this’ (unofficially or unofficially) as the scope
of the tragedy grew, as did the thirst for answers. And the report has certainly iden- tified some people to blame.
Starting with state officials for not only giving the job of running the home to a vet- eran (Bennett Walsh) who had no experi- ence leading a long-term-care facility, but then failing to provide adequate amounts of oversight to Walsh and others charged with the care of veterans. But Walsh is
also singled out for triggering a series of decisions that allowed COVID-19 to race through the home, affecting residents and staff members alike.
With language that can only be
described as heartbreaking, the report recounts the thoughts of one staff mem- ber after management merged two locked dementia units on March 27, a decision investigators described as a catastrophe: “[I] will never get those images out of my mind — what we did, what was done to those veterans ... my God, where is the respect and dignity for these men?” Other staff members were quoted as saying, “all in this room will be dead by tomorrow.”
While the report is certainly a valuable document, the veterans who died, their families, and staff members who lived through this horrible tragedy want so much more than a document that chronicles what happened and assigns blame. They want and need for this catastrophe to lead to meaningful and permanent changes that will ensure that no one will ever say, ‘where is the respect and dignity for these men?’ again.
That is our hope as well, and while the governor and legislators sound sincere when they say this is their overriding con- cern with the regard to the Soldiers’ Home, we know from history that when stories disappear from the front pages of news- papers, the will to implement meaningful change dissipates.
We can’t allow that to happen in this case.
Changes proposed by the governor, including several not in the report, include
creation of a consistent policy at Holyoke and its sister facility in Chelsea for the hir- ing of a superintendent; creating more oversight by hiring an assistant secretary within the state Department of Veterans’ Services who would serve as an executive director for the state’s two soldiers’ homes and report directly to the secretary of Vet- erans’ Services; expanding the board of trustees at both the Holyoke and Chelsea facilities from seven to nine and requiring that the two additions each have either a clinical or administrative background in healthcare; and, most importantly, per- haps, making immediate and long-term capital improvements to modernize resi- dential units and furnishings to address infection control — renovations are cur- rently underway on one floor, but a more comprehensive plan of modernization and improvements is certainly needed.
History also shows us that, follow-
ing some of the worst tragedies in history — the Triangle fire in New York City, the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, and even the Titanic’s sinking — reviews that initially focused on laying blame eventually led to serious, and often historic, reforms.
If that can happen with the case of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home tragedy, then per- haps those veterans who bravely served their country will not have died in vain. v
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