NEWBURYPORT — Michael Allard received the Public Service Commendation Medal — the fourth-highest public service decoration the U.S. Department of the Army can bestow upon a civilian — at the Pentagon last Wednesday.
Allard was one of three recipients from Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital program, to receive the medal.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jim McConville presented the honor to Allard, chief operating officer for Home Base; Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital; and Dr. Ross Zafonte, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital.
At the same time, Tom Werner, chairman of the Boston Red Sox and the Red Sox Foundation, received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service — the second-highest award from the head of the Department of Defense.
Retired Brig. Gen. Jack Hammond, executive director for Home Base, nominated Allard, Werner and other founding members of Home Base for their efforts “in establishing the first and now, one of the largest private-sector programs in the country that is dedicated to healing the invisible wounds for service members, veterans and their families,” Allard said.
After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, players and owners visited wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Following that visit, Werner committed to partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital to establish a clinic that would address the “invisible wounds” stemming from military service — such as post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, military sexual trauma, substance abuse and other issues.
Allard was 11 when his uncle, an Air Force veteran, died by suicide.
“It was very devastating to me because he was like my second dad,” he said. “I also saw what it did to the other members of my family, including my dad and my grandparents. Any suicide just leaves a devastating wake in everyone who is left behind.”
So when Slavin approached Allard with Werner’s idea for Home Base, he saw it as “an opportunity to be able to provide a new program and solution for what we knew at the time — and unfortunately, continues today — is an epidemic of suicide in our military community.”
He said an average of 20 veterans and one active duty service member die by suicide every day.
Due to isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide rates are only increasing around the world, he said.
“Even though deployments are down — and that’s a good thing — the effects of war take, sometimes, decades of healing,” Allard said. “COVID has only amplified that.”
In late March 2020, Gov. Charlie Baker asked Hammond and Allard to establish New England’s largest field hospital at Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. In 10 days, they built and hired employees for Boston Hope, the 1,000-bed center which would serve post-acute COVID-19 patients and homeless COVID-19 patients who did not require hospitalization in an acute care facility.
The hospital served over 750 patients and ran from April to June, Allard said. Then, one of the nurses reached out to him and mentioned that Newburyport Public Schools was looking for some assistance in establishing and managing its COVID-19 protocols for the school year.
Allard has lived in Newburyport with his wife, Jennifer, and their four kids for the past 18 years. Chapel, 20, attends the University of South Carolina, while the other three — Wyatt, 18, Caden, 16, and Piper, 14 — attend Newburyport High School.
After hearing that the district needed some help, Allard soon connected with Superintendent Sean Gallagher and district nurse leader Cathy Riccio to see how he could help. Allard joined Dr. Jessica Su, an epidemiologist and Newburyport parent, in establishing a medical advisory team for the district.
For close to 10 months now, they have been working to keep the schools safe amid COVID-19 concerns and assist administrators in making decisions about remote and in-person learning models.
To learn more about Home Base, visit https://homebase.org.