HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Holyoke Soldiers Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh says state officials were being made aware of the worsening situation at the Soldiers Home, as a COVID-19 outbreak began spreading at the facility last month.
In a statement sent to 22News, Walsh said that Soldiers Home officials had provided information frequently to the staff of the Secretary of Veteran Services, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Public Health.
“There have been widespread reports in the media that state officials were kept in the dark about what was happening at the Soldiers Home during the COVID-19 crisis. These reports are false,” Walsh wrote.
“We provided updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day.”
In addition to reporting cases and deaths, Walsh says he notified state officials that they were facing staff shortages, with about a quarter of the staff not reporting to work.
“The staff shortage was so acute, and the number of veterans with unknown or suspected COVID-19 so large, that the medical staff was forced to close some areas and place these men in the same unit. This action to ‘cohort’ the veterans was reviewed with the Department of Public Health on Wednesday March 25 and accomplished on Friday March 27,” Walsh wrote.
“It is very disappointing to me that during this time of unspeakable horror that the staffs at EVOH, DVS, and DPH have remained silent and have the lie that they didn’t know about anything going on persist,” he added. “State officials knew Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark.”
Walsh says he is cooperating with the investigation into the Soldiers Home situation that was initiated by Governor Charlie Baker, and that he has been interviewed twice on the matter.
The State Attorney General, Maura Healey is also conducting a separate investigation into the situation at the Soldiers’ Home. You can read Walsh’s statement below.
Governor Baker has initiated a full review of my actions as Superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. I am cooperating with this investigation and thus far I have been interviewed on two occasions by investigators. I am committed to full participation in the process.
There have been widespread reports in the media that state officials were kept in the dark about what was happening at the Soldiers’ Home during the Covid-19 crisis. These reports are false.
We provided updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. These updates were by phone, text, email, conference calls and official report forms. These updates were made at various times to the staffs of the Secretary of Veteran Services (DVS), the Executive office of Health and Human Services (EOHH)and the Department of Public Health(DPH).
Specifically, as of Friday afternoon March 27, we had notified state officials that:
– 28 veterans had exhibited symptoms of the corona virus and samples had been collected and sent for testing
– these 28 veterans were living in different locations
– test results for 13 had been received
– 10 veterans were positive and 3 were negative
– test results for 15 veterans were pending
– 2 veterans had died; 1 with a positive test result and 1 with test results pending
Events were happening rapidly and these statistics were again updated in the early evening when the test result for the second veteran who had died was determined to be positive. There were now 2 confirmed coronavirus related deaths.
The first veteran who showed symptoms resided in North 1. The first veteran who died with a confirmed positive resided in North 2. These veterans were on different floors and physically separated from each other. It was clear that the virus was not confined to one area but was infecting veterans throughout the facility and our medical resources were stretched to the limit.
At mid-day Friday March 27 I requested that National Guard medical personnel be sent to the Soldiers’ Home to assist our staff. That request was denied.
We also notified state officials that we were in a crisis mode regarding staff shortages. 25 % of the workforce was not reporting to work. These work shortages, and the knowledge that our veterans were extremely vulnerable to the virus, were taking a toll on the staff who had reported for duty. I requested trained grief support counselors to assist our staff who were dealing with the hardest hit units.
The staff shortage was so acute, and the number of Veterans with known or suspected Covid-19 so large, that the medical staff was forced to close some areas and place these men in the same unit. This action to “cohort” the veterans was reviewed with the Department of Public Health on Wednesday March 25 and accomplished on Friday March 27.
Between Friday night and Sunday morning 6 more veterans died bringing the total number of deaths to eight. By Sunday afternoon we had determined that 4 deaths were positive for the coronavirus and 4 deaths had test results still pending. The delay in getting test results was frustrating to all. This information was reported to state officials on Sunday afternoon at about 4:30 pm.
It is very disappointing to me that during this time of unspeakable horror the staffs at EOHH, DVS and DPH have remained silent and have let the lie that they didn’t know what was going on persist.
State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark.
It is gut-wrenching to observe the devastation the virus has caused my fellow veterans. These are men I helped to care for with affection and respect. I again express my sincere sympathy to their families.Superintendent Bennett Walsh, Holyoke Soldiers’ Home