HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – On March 23 the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services announced the first case of a resident at the Soldiers’ Home who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The department’s spokesman Anthony Preston said in a statement “the resident has been quarantined to a private room. The proper local and state public health officials were notified and took appropriate public health measures.”
Four days later on March 27 a decision was made to consolidate two dementia units into a single unit, a move that Attorney General Maura Healey said allowed the virus to spread.
Two days later, Anthony Preston announced several residents along with staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the Soldiers’ Home.
Following CDC guidelines the residents were isolated and employees were advised to quarantine until they are asymptomatic. Precautionary measures were taken in hopes to prevent future cases within the facility.
But by the next day on March 30 the Department of Veterans Services announced 11 veteran residents at the Soldiers’ Home had died. The superintendent of the facility Bennett Walsh was put on paid administrative leave.
On April 3 the Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders announced that 21 veteran residents at the Soldiers’ Home had died. At that time a total of 59 residents had tested positive for the virus. Those who had tested positive were being kept in isolation.
New Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Administrator Val Liptak started working with several agencies to focus on implementing immediate controls, staffing, and protocols to protect the health and safety of residents and staff.
In the end at least 76 veterans died as a result of the highly infectious virus.
Former U.S. Attorney Mark Pearlstein, who the Baker Administration tapped to investigate the outbreak, concluded that Bennett Walsh wasn’t qualified to manage a long-term care facility and that his team was slow to respond. A charge that Walsh and his lawyer dispute.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and State Attorney General Maura Healey have each been conducting their own investigations into the sequence of events at the Soldiers’ Home.
The state legislature also created a Special Joint Oversight Committee tasking it with submitting findings and recommending legislation by March 31, 2021.