HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The mission of the Soldiers’ Home In Holyoke aims to provide “care with honor and dignity” in the best possible health care environment for eligible Massachusetts veterans since 1952.
But this year numerous deaths related to COVID-19 have affected both the veteran residents and the staff.
On March 23 the Massachusetts Department of Veteran’s Services announced the first case of a resident at the Soldiers’ Home who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The department’s spokesman Anthony Preston said in a statement “the resident has been quarantined to a private room. The proper local and state public health officials were notified and took appropriate public health measures.”
Six days later, Preston announced several residents along with staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the Soldiers’ Home.
Following CDC guidelines the residents were isolated and employees were advised to quarantine until they are asymptomatic. Precautionary measures were taken in hopes to prevent future cases within the facility.
But by the next day on March 30 the Department of Veteran’s Services announced 11 veteran residents at the Soldiers’ Home had died. The superintendent of the facility Bennett Walsh was put on paid administrative leave.
Governor Baker and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse released statements regarding the tragic situation.
On April 3 Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders announced that now 21 veteran residents at the Soldiers’ Home had died. At that time a total of 59 residents had tested positive for the virus. Those who had tested positive were being kept in isolation.
New Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Administrator Val Liptak started working with several agencies to focus on implementing immediate controls, staffing, and protocols to protect the health and safety of residents and staff.
In the end at least 76 veterans died as a result of the highly infectious virus.
Former U.S. Attorney Mark Pearlman, who the Baker administration, tapped to investigate the outbreak and concluded that Bennett Walsh wasn’t qualified to manage a long-term care facility and that his team was slow to respond, a charge that Walsh and his lawyer dispute.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and State Attorney General Maura Healey have each been conducting their own investigations into the sequence of events at the Soldiers’ Home.
The state legislature also created a special joint oversight committee tasking it with submitting findings and recommending legislation by March 31, 2021.