Staff from Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke testify Thursday

Hampden County

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(WWLP) – Staff from the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home testified before the special joint oversight committee for the second time Thursday.

The legislative committee made up of state representatives and senators is investigating the deadly COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 veterans at the facility. Both current and former employees testified virtually, and spoke about their experiences while working at the Soldiers’ Home.

Paul Barabani was the Superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home a few years before the deadly outbreak. He testified for more than 90 minutes telling legislators that there were indicators of understaffing, including bed sores, and veterans losing weight when they shouldn’t have been.

“When you see weight loss, that’s another indicator of a lack of staffing. Somebody will come in, put the tray down, then bring the tray back down stairs, and say oh he wasn’t hungry, he didn’t eat anything. The fact is, he wasn’t not hungry, it’s the fact that he needed help with doing it and there weren’t enough people to do that for him.”

An investigation ordered by Governor Baker concluded that decisions by former Superintendent Bennett Walsh and other officials contributed to the scale of the crisis including combining two dementia units that had both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents.

Walsh said that he combined these units because there wasn’t enough staff working to separate the veterans. He, and former Medical Director Dr. David Clinton are now facing criminal neglect charges.

Walsh has said that he took the necessary steps to inform the state about what was going on within the Soldiers’ Home when the outbreak began.

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