I-Team: Superintendent of Soldiers’ Home defends himself and staff, says they followed CDC, DPH guidelines

Hampden County

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The Office of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, reported two additional veteran resident’s deaths at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, bringing the total to 15.

The 15 veterans who died include six who tested positive for COVID-19, six who have test results pending, two who tested negative and one unknown. On Wednesday, the state reported the following:

  • 15 veteran resident deaths (6 positive tests, 6 pending, 2 negative, 1 unknown) 
  • 11 veteran residents have tested positive 
  • 7 staff tested positive 

The superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Bennett Walsh, was placed on paid administrative leave on Monday, the same day news broke about the death of 11 veteran residents.  Walsh issued a statement on Wednesday claiming he and the staff followed guidelines provided by state health officials.

In the statement, which was obtained by 22News from News 7, superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home Bennett Walsh, said he is filled with grief and sorrow for all the veterans who died, extending his sincere sympathies for their families.  

Two more veterans pass away at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, 15 total

On Monday, 22News learned that 11 veteran residents had died at the Soldiers Home, five had tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, that number increased to 13 and 15 by Wednesday. The state reported that out of the 15, six tested positive for the virus, two tested negative and one remains unknown.

I was notified that a veteran had tested positive for the COVID-19 for the first time on Saturday night March 21. The next day my staff called the family of every veteran at the Soldiers Home to inform them that a veteran had tested positive for the Coronavirus.

Bennett Walsh, Superintendent of Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke

Walsh added that the decisions he and the staff made were according to available CDC and DPH guidelines on COVID-19 and that at no time did he or anyone on his staff, hide, conceal or mislead anyone regarding the tragic impact of the virus. He said it would be outrageous for anyone to even think of doing such a thing. 

Beth LaPointe and her husband Edward of Ludlow, agonized over whether they should send her 81-year father, former Coast Guard member Richard Hamel, to a nursing home. But in May of last year, she made the difficult decision to move him to the Soldiers’ Home.

“Still at best it was getting very difficult to manage the care,” Beth told 22News.

Beth was visiting her father nearly every day, until the Soldiers’ Home closed their doors to visitors in mid-March over concerns of COVID-19 exposure. Beth didn’t want to appear on camera, but she told the 22News I-Team that she and her husband saw signs of illness more than 15 days prior to that.

“All of sudden they were plummeting in the way they looked,” Beth explained. “So we commented on that a few times, something is going on here.”

Fast forward nearly a month later, to this past Monday, when the Department of Veterans Services announced 11 deaths at the Soldiers’ Home. As the days go, the death toll continues to climb, now at 15.

The registry of deeds lists a Bennett Walsh as a Springfield resident. When the I-Team knocked, no one answered the door, but there were clear signs that someone was home. A few hours later, Walsh sent out his statement to the media telling his side of the story.

Walsh said he is grateful the governor is reviewing all the facts to determine everything that happened at the Soldiers’ Home and that he looks forward to participating in that review.  

I regret any uncertainty that such delays produced. I thank the staff for their dedication and hard work on behalf of our veterans and I again extend my sympathy to those who have lost a loved one. I look forward to the end of the crisis in the days ahead. 

Bennett Walsh, Superintendent of Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke

Reporter: Do you feel it’s just a lack of communication?

Beth: Complete lack of communication. Complete lack of, they’re not being transparent with us at all. You feel like the answers are canned and scripted.

Reporter: What has it been like to see your wife go through something like this with her father?

Edward: It’s inconsolable. You’ve got to understand she didn’t want to put her father in a nursing home.

Beth: I mean we need to have this information. How does he look? Is he eating okay? These are concerns that we aren’t able to see.

Beth told 22News her father has been tested twice for COVID-19, but they have yet to get the results for either testing.

Read Walsh’s full statement below:

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