I-Team: Changes proposed for Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

Hampden County

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – State Representative Joseph F. Wagner held a news conference Friday at the Chicopee Veterans’ Memorial Plaza on Front Street.

An independent report released Wednesday recommended a series of changes that should be made at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home after the deaths of 76 veterans who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Baker-Polito Administration said they intend to implement the report’s recommended changes, like requiring the next superintendent be a “licensed nursing home administrator,” something the report conducted Bennett Walsh was not.

Also, they want to require some board members have a medical background.

“I would hope, at least the recommendations that he made, be filed – irrespective of what people on the legislative side might want to do – can make their way into state law shortly,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

Members of the Massachusetts delegation told 22News making changes that benefit the veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers Home is now their number one priority. Representative Joseph Wagner said they will start by listening to healthcare workers on the frontlines about their issues.

“Let’s get every important question answered so that the solutions we stand behind, we support, the solutions that require funding, we’re all on the same page in terms of our understanding,” said Wagner.

A local coalition of veterans and family members also wants to see more communication between the state and the people directly impacted at the soldiers home.

“We want a voice, hear what we have to say. we have a vested interest in the future of that home,” said Paul Barabani, who was the Superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home before Walsh.

The coalition has a number of changes they want to see made at the Soldiers’ Home, including the construction of a new wing with 120 private rooms for veterans. The state needs to approve funding for the project by the end of July, in order to keep the funding already given by the federal government. Right now, Rep. Wagner said that timetable is unlikely to happen.

Other changes the Coalition wants to see happen are:

  1. Both the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea be aligned under the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Hospitals.
  2. Proposes the Trustees’ model be much more closely examined and be overhauled.
  3. Add a full-time geriatric physician as the medical director; a geriatric nurse practitioner; and a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
  4. The Coalition strongly opposes the EOHHS Secretary as appointing authority of the facility’s superintendent.
  5. Want to see the Baker Administration commit to the renovation and expansion of long-term care at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke while maintaining a minimum of 250 long-term care beds.

There are several more investigations still happening into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home tragedy.

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