HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – There were 76 veterans at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke who died in less than three months due to COVID-19 spreading throughout the facility.
The 22News I-Team looked into the annual inspections that were done at the home prior to the outbreak and reveal the major issues that they exposed.
The 22News I-Team read through inspection reports as far back as 2010. According to the state, the facility consistently met most of the safety standards in each inspection, but there were some issues that were put off, which made it easy for COVID-19 to spread.
“The state was aware of the problems here at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and consciously let those problems exist for you know 10 years. It’s criminal,” former superintendent Paul Barabani of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.
One of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in the country was at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. Attorney General Maura Healey and Attorney Mark Pearlstein both pointed out in their investigations that cramming too many veterans in rooms, significantly contributed to the spread of the virus. But this was nothing new.
The 22News I-Team obtained VA inspection reports from the home that were conducted at the beginning of each year since 2014. We discovered that the most notable reoccurring issues involved veterans’ bedrooms.
“You’re saying these inspection reports show that the state knew of the problems at the home, and put them off? There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Barabani.
Barabani was the superintendent of the facility between 2011 and 2016. He showed us an inspection report from 2010, that he says first pointed out the issue with the size of the rooms, and the limited space between beds. It led Barabani to call on the state to redesign the home to correct this issue.
He had some support, but the state couldn’t commit the funding at the time. “They were not able to come up with the funding, as personalities and administrations change it just never happened.”
“They were not able to come up with the funding, as personalities and administrations change it just never happened,” said Barabani.
The 2019 inspection report really exposed the full extent of the bedroom issue at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. It revealed that 39 bedrooms for 85 residents did not meet the minimum square footage requirement. This of course made it a lot easier for infectious viruses like COVID-19 to spread.
The inspection, however, said the residents rooms provisionally met the safety standard even though they did not meet the square footage requirement. But the report did say the room clearance did not meet the standard.
Following each VA inspection, if a facility does not meet a standard, the Soldiers’ Home is required to develop and submit a plan of correction. The VA must approve a final plan of correction for the facility to continue its certification.EOHHS spokesperson
The state’s “corrective plan of action” listed in that 2019 report, was conducting a whole house audit and then modify veteran room design to ensure compliance. The proposed completion date to have this corrected was December 30 of 2019. However, one year later, the 2020 inspection once again showed that those same 39 rooms still didn’t meet the square footage requirement.
The state did follow through on their improvement project that they set out to do after the 2020 inspection. They are in Phase 2 of a three-phase project to refresh all of the nursing care units and get more space into the rooms.
They say it will be completed in early 2021.