Staff members of Holyoke Soldiers’ Home testify before legislative committee

Hampden County

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Staff from the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home gave their testimony Tuesday to the Special Joint Oversight Committee as the investigation into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak continues.

The hearing was held on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Holyoke Community College. The current and former staff of the home were encouraged to testify. This was their first opportunity to do so in a public forum.

Shocked and traumatized, those were some of the words used to describe the staff who were on the front lines containing the deadly outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. At Tuesday’s hearing, a nursing assistant of 21 years describes how hard it was to get a hold of N95 masks.

“How can you go to war without ammunition?”

A lack of personal protective equipment and a lack of staffing were key issues laid out during the hearing at Holyoke Community College.

“Staff had to come to work with the concern of personally contracting the virus under the conditions that failed to protect them, denying them respirators and PPE,” said Andrea Fox with the MA Nurses Association. “Staff suffered significant trust of the quote baffling decisions of the previous administration.”

While the hearing was happening, the Holyoke Soldiers Home Coalition showed their support. Among them, Cheryl Turgeon- whose father is in the Soldier’s Home.

“The heroes who are also the staff. They went into the building and worked with a known contagion in the building,” she said.

The Homes former superintendent Bennet Walsh and former medical director doctor David Clinton have been charged with criminal neglect for the alleged role in the worsening of the outbreak at the facility.

They’re scheduled to be arraigned on November 5th.

“In my opinion, the best form of restorative justice to honor the veterans who lost their lives and staff who suffered physically and emotionally would be to dedicate ourselves to two essential tasks. Reform to ensure that this kind of tragedy could never happen again and improvements to positively transform patient care and working conditions,” said Andrea Fox of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

A second opportunity for testimony will run on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in a virtual-only setting. While Tuesday’s hearing was happening, a coalition stood outside Holyoke Community College.

Organizers say this is about showing that there is still support for reform and the employees testifying. They said major steps need to be taken to prevent tragedies like these from happening again.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ coalition is made up of veterans, family members, veteran service advocates, and concerned citizens.

John Hurley was the captain of Tuesday’s stand out. He says the veterans at home deserved better, “I think our state should be very embarrassed. Especially the officials. What went on up there, there’s too much cover up and it has to be exposed. We have to do better for our veterans.”

They’re demanding more be done for the veterans at the home, pushing to get 250 beds, private rooms with private bathrooms adult daycare center, and a local advisory board.

There are multiple state and federal investigations into the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. As part of its investigation, a commission made up of state representatives and senators met twice last week to hear from families impacted by the outbreak.

Those family members gave testimony one by one at Holyoke Community College in the campus center. They explained to the committee what they knew about the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility and when.

Former Superintendent Bennett Walsh has said that he took the necessary steps to inform the state about that COVID-19 outbreak inside the facility.

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