State hires firm to help ‘reimagine’ Soldiers’ Home

  • An ambulance arrives at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2020 11:32:14 AM

HOLYOKE — The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker has hired an architectural firm to begin a planning phase to “reimagine the future of the Soldiers’ Home” after the facility faced one of the country’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks earlier this year.

In an annoucement Monday, the Baker administration said it had awarded a contract to the firm Payette, which will conduct a “rapid planning phase,” during which it will complete a needs assessment and engage stakeholders. The work will inform the development of a plan ahead of an April 15, 2021 deadline for a federal construction grant, according to the governor’s office.

“Our administration is committed to supporting important facility improvements for the Soldiers’ Home to ensure the facility can provide the best care possible for the veteran residents who have served our country with honor,” Baker said in a statement. “We look forward to this next phase of these planned upgrades which include both immediate infection control solutions and longer-term improvements.”

At least 76 veteran residents of the Soldiers’ Home died from the coronavirus disease earlier this year, with more than 80 other residents and 80 employees testing positive for the virus.

The state’s announcement was met with cautious optimism, but also concerns.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition, a group of local advocates that have been pressing for upgrades to the facility, said in a statement Monday that they welcome the selection of Payette. But the group said that it had worries about the possibility of the state reducing the size and bed capacity of the home.

“There is a significant demand in the Veteran community in our state for long-term care and our Coalition stands firm that the state should maintain a total capacity of at least 250 private room/private bath bedrooms, which was the approximate census before the pandemic,” the coalition’s statement said. “Any design should also include a much-needed Adult Day Healthcare Program, which would include an enhanced outdoor recreational area for use by all residents of the facility.”

The coalition, which includes former leaders of the Soldiers’ Home, said it wished to be a part of the stakeholder engagement process.

That engagement work is expected to take 12 weeks, according to the Baker administration. After that process is complete, the state said it will prioritize infection control in whatever upgrades it makes.

In the final planning phase, the administration said it will outline up to three scenarios “with order-of-magnitude cost estimates, financing options, and realistic timelines for regulatory approvals, design, and construction.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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