I-Team: Reforms announced to improve operations, oversight at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home following independent report

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – People across the Commonwealth are still trying to digest the findings of the independent investigation of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

The independent investigation corroborates the many complaints the 22News I-Team received in late-March from concerned family members of veterans at the Soldiers’ Home and concerned staff members. 

11 veterans dead, several residents, staff exposed to COVID-19 at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

A lack of PPE for staff, staff being moved from unit to unit, and worrying they’d spread the virus. Family members telling us their loved ones were being crammed into a small room or being moved from one dementia unit to another. 

In fact, the report said the most substantial error by the Home’s leadership team was a decision on March 27, when they decided to move all veterans from one of the two locked dementia units, 2-North, into the other locked dementia unit, 1-North. 

Statement released regarding positive COVID-19 cases at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke

The report said some veterans were Covid positive and should have been isolated. The report called it a basic tenet of infection control. Instead, imagine 40 veterans crowded into a space designed to hold 25. Some of them were infected, some not, eventually though the virus would spread.

During that same week, in response to those viewer phone calls, the 22News I-Team on March 23 contacted both Superintended Bennett Walsh and Anthony Preston with the Department of Veterans’ Services. 

Resident tests positive for COVID-19 at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke

The I-Team received no response from Walsh, but Preston responded, telling the 22News I-Team that one veteran had tested positive for Covid-19 and was being quarantined. This is something the independent report indicates wasn’t happening. 

The governor hopes several reforms will prevent that from happening again. 

“Some of the ones we filed are very particular and specific to the issues that were raised in the report and the aftermath, but some of those we’ve been working on with people for a while now,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. 

TIMELINE: COVID-19 cases reported at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke

The Baker-Polito Administration on Thursday announced a series of reforms to improve operations and oversight at the Soldiers’ Home; require the next superintendent candidate be a “licensed nursing home administrator,” something the report conducted Walsh was not. 

BOSTON, MASS. – JUNE 24, 2020: Gov. Charlie Baker held a State House news conference Wednesday to discuss a report on the deaths of at least 76 veterans with COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. [Photo By Sam Doran/State House News Service]

Also announced were changes to the Soldiers’ Homes’ Board of Trustees Composition. For example, requiring some board members to have a medical background. Meantime, lawmakers in Boston plan to conduct their own investigation into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. 

State: Remaining Holyoke Soldiers’ Home veterans with Covid-19 have recovered

The 22News I-Team filed Freedom of Information Act requests to the Departments of Public Health, Veterans’ Services, and to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. All three agencies have denied our requests, citing active investigations.

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