Families, veterans advocates call for Soldiers’ Home improvements

  • Holyoke Soldiers’ Home on Monday, June 22, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Holyoke Soldiers Home on Monday, June 22, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Laurie Beaudette of Springfield sits beside a memorial for her father, Jim Mandeville, at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke on Monday. He died of COVID-19 at the home on April 14. She is part of a coalition urging the state to fund its portion of a renovation and expansion project at the home. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laurie Beaudette of Springfield sits beside a memorial for her father, Jim Mandeville, at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke on Monday. He died of COVID-19 at the home on April 14. She is part of a coalition urging the state to fund its portion of a renovation and expansion project at the home. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/22/2020 6:28:47 PM

HOLYOKE — A coalition of veterans, their families and local advocates is calling on the state to fund its portion of a renovation and expansion project the Soldiers’ Home that has already been approved for federal money.

The campaign is planning a “stand out” in Holyoke at 4 p.m. Tuesday to pressure Gov. Charlie Baker. In a statement Monday, the coalition said it wants to see the state commit to a project, submitted in 2012, that would see the federal government cover 65% of a $116 million, five-story addition and complete renovation of the existing Soldiers’ Home. That comes after a COVID-19 outbreak has killed at least 76 veterans residents at the facility.

“It was a rough day yesterday,” Laurie Beaudette — whose father James Mandeville, died of the coronavirus at the home in early April — said Monday, the day after Father’s Day. “For us, it’s part of the justice process — getting justice for our dads who had to die under such horrific circumstances. But also beginning the healing process for us.”

Since March 1, the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services says there have been 97 veteran deaths at the Soldiers’ Home. Of those, 76 tested positive for COVID-19, 18 tested negative, one had an unknown status and two had “clinically recovered” from the virus, the agency said Monday.

The project currently sits on a priority list of projects approved for funding by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, but it hasn’t yet received state matching funds. Former Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Paul Barabani, under whose leadership the project was conceived, recently broke his silence amid the coronavirus outbreak and began advocating publicly for the project.

At a recent meeting of the Soldiers’ Home trustees, the project was mentioned by several members who said they hadn’t known about it until reading about it in the local press.

Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services Daniel Tsai did not commit to the project during the meeting. He told the trustees that the state would engage in a long-term planning discussion, studying all options.

Another supporter of the project has been Cheryl Turgeon, of East Longmeadow. Her father, Dennis Thresher, is an 89-year-old Korean War veteran resident of the Soldiers’ Home who appears to have recovered from the coronavirus.

On Friday, Turgeon was finally able to visit her father; the state recently began allowing outdoor visits after closing down the facility to visitors in mid-March.

Turgeon explained that her father was rushed to Baystate Medical Center on March 31 with dropping oxygen levels. He had pneumonia, she said, and he was hospitalized on a COVID-19 floor, though he ultimately tested negative for the virus.

“He came back to the Soldiers’ Home and he didn’t do well for a long time,” she said. “He couldn’t shake it.”

Her father’s health has improved recently, Turgeon said, but he still isn’t fully recovered. The virus took a toll on him, and that was hard for her to see when she visited, she said.

Thresher lost 30 pounds as his health plummeted, and hasn’t been able to walk since recovering. He is having an operation Tuesday to try to improve the circulation in his feet.

“My dad went through another war,” his daughter said. “And trying to help him fight and get through it through FaceTime was hard, so I had a great reliance on the staff … They really helped me out. Every shift — guards, CNAs, LPNs, the physician on staff — would keep me informed.”

Turgeon said that veterans deserve to be cared for with honor and dignity, and that in her mind that includes funding the new Soldiers’ Home wing.

“Now it’s up to the state to follow through and make this right,” she said. “They need to correct the wrongs of the past.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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