13 veterans dead, all staff and residents being tested for COVID-19 at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke

Hampden County

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) -As of Tuesday afternoon, thirteen veterans at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke have died and all residents and staff are being tested for COVID-19.

According to Brooke Karanovich from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the following was confirmed by the Soldiers Home Tuesday:

  • 13 veteran resident deaths (6 tested positive for COVID-19, 5 pending test results, 1 negative and 1 is unknown
  • 10 veteran residents have tested positive for COVID-19
  • 25 veteran residents pending test results
  • 7 staff tested positive 

During an update on his Facebook page Tuesday morning, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said he was disappointed in the lack of urgency or action that was taken at the Soldiers’ home.

A phone hotline and email inbox was launched Tuesday for families and loved ones of residents to answer questions and provide support. Additionally, social workers will be available to take Veteran-specific questions for families. 

The Superintendent of Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, Bennet Walsh, was put on paid administrative leave Monday following the announcement of the 11 deaths, some of whom tested positive for the virus. Morse said the city was in contact with the soldiers’ home since Friday and didn’t receive any information about the deaths over the weekend until the city contacted the home.

Morse contacted the Baker-Polito administration about the recent deaths and got a response immediately from Lt. Karyn Polito and then later from Secretary of Health and Human Services, Marylou Sudders.

Sudders then sent a response team to the facility on Monday to help take action of the situation.

Department of Veterans services spokesman Anthony Preston told 22News, as of Monday, the Soldiers’ Home located at 110 Cherry Street in Holyoke had confirmed the following:

  • 11 veteran resident deaths (5 tested positive for COVID-19, 5 pending test results, and 1 is unknown)
  • 11 veteran residents have tested positive for COVID-19
  • 25 veteran residents pending test results
  • 5 staff tested positive

22News spoke with Gumersindo Gomez president of The Vietnam Veterans Massachusetts State Council. He said he started hearing rumors of these cases on Saturday.

“I got emails from other veteran activists within the area letting me know that something was going wrong at the soldiers home,” he said.

Gomez also runs a veteran outreach center and has suspended services due to the virus.
He said these deaths impact other veterans in Massachusetts and across the nation.

He added, “We’re trying to stay as safe as possible but it saddens me as a veteran and activist and president of the Vietnam veterans of Massachusetts that we unfortunately lost some veterans.”

Val Liptak, RN, CEO of western Massachusetts Hospitals will replace Walsh and assume responsibility for the administration of the Soldiers’ Home at this time. Preston said in accordance with CDC Guidelines, the residents who tested positive or awaiting results have been isolated and staff members who had contact with them have been advised to quarantine until they are asymptomatic.

Public health experts are at the Soldiers’ Home conducting a thorough review of the health status of staff and residents to plan appropriate next steps.

COVID-19: Reported cases in western Massachusetts

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