I-Team: Sick Holyoke Soldiers’ Home employees blame staffing shortages, poor management on veteran deaths

I-Team

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – We are finding out more about what was happening inside the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home after the first veteran tested positive for COVID-19.

Carmen Rivera was the first of nearly 70 staff members at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to test positive for COVID-19. It spread to 9 of her family members – four of them had to be hospitalized.

“That was horrible,” said Rivera. “That was the worst nightmare for me.”

Rivera said she used up all her sick time, and then didn’t receive a paycheck for the remaining time she out of work – something that is a state policy.

“There’s bills that I’m getting now, and my family has been hospitalized.”

Rivera told the 22News I-Team that even though she is still recovering and trying to get her money, she feels the need to speak out about what led to the deaths of 28 veterans.

“I’m there for the people, the vets. To take care of them, because they took care of us, and that makes me sad,” she said.

Erin Saykin has worked as a CNA at the Soldiers home for 16 years. She has been out of work, sick with COVID-19 for almost two weeks now, still experiencing shortness of breath.

Both Saykin and Rivera said the administration – not just Superintendent Bennett Walsh – didn’t do enough to protect the veterans and the staff.

“This could have easily been prevented and those veterans could have lived,” explained Saykin.

The nurses union that represents the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is now asking the state to put four more administrators on leave. The class-action complaint says these administrators have “played a part in endangering the health and safety of everyone in the building.”

Saykin said the first veteran diagnosed with COVID-19 was put in a room alone after he showed symptoms. His three room mates, that were living in close quarters with him, were then put into rooms with up to five other residents. Rivera told the I-Team she believes she caught it from this original person, but was already out of work sick when they finally moved his roommates.

“A lot of this could have been prevented,” she said. “A lot of vets could have not died, and a lot of us could not have been sick.”

“That probably just made it fester even more,” added Saykin.

Saykin told the I-Team that the Soldiers’ Home was notoriously short-staffed, and that’s why the veterans were all combined and placed together. Walsh said, they were following CDC protocol when they did this.

Soldiers’ Home superintendent: State officials were informed when COVID-19 cases began

Walsh, was placed on paid administrative leave last month. The state says, he did not do his part in keeping them informed.

But, in a statement sent to 22News, Walsh said, “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 … State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark.”

Both Rivera and Saykin say they are still feeling very sick, and have no idea when they will be able to return to work.

Thursday Report: 5 new veteran deaths reported at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke Thursday, 32 total

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