Holyoke Soldiers’ Home opens doors to visitors

  • Cheryl Turgeon, of East Longmeadow, visits her father, Dennis Thresher, at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke on Sept. 26, 2020. Thresher is an 89-year-old Korean War and a veteran resident of the Soldiers’ Home. —SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/6/2020 6:56:43 PM

HOLYOKE — When Cheryl Turgeon visits her 90-year-old father, Dennis Thresher, on Wednesday at the Soldiers’ Home, it will be the first time she has stepped inside since it was closed to visitors in March.

Turgeon’s indoor visit at the Soldiers’ Home will not be unique. The state-run facility, where at least 76 veteran residents died of COVID-19 this year, began indoor visits for family members and loved ones Tuesday. The state has allowed outdoor visitation since this summer, contingent on infection control. As of last week, 828 outdoor visits have occurred, though twice outdoor visits have been suspended because of positive coronavirus tests.

“It’s wonderful news, it really is,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “I’m just happy that it’s happening.”

Just last Saturday, Turgeon, of East Longmeadow, said she was able to have a “touch visit” with her father, a Korean War veteran. It was the first time she had hugged her father in seven months — a moment she described as bittersweet because of the personal protective equipment, or PPE, she and her father were wearing.

“He’s still my guy, but it’s different,” she said. “It’s through plastic.”

Nevertheless, Turgeon said touch is an important part of the healing process. And the health of her father, who she believes contracted the virus as it spread through the home, has been up and down, she said.

Indoor visitation at the Soldiers’ Home will follow a plan that is contingent on the continued stability of infection control and public health metrics, Brooke Karanovich of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said in a statement Tuesday.

Visitors will be screened by means of temperature checks and will be asked a series of questions. Two visitors are allowed per visit, with visitation in the home’s lobby in four separate private areas. Sixteen slots will be available each day, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The state’s move to allow indoor visitation comes as colder weather approaches and outdoor visits become more difficult.

The move was praised by Laurie Beaudette, a member of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition, a group that has come together to advocate for current residents and the families of those who died during the pandemic. Beaudette’s 83-year-old father, James Mandeville, died of COVID-19 at the Soldiers’ Home in April.

“I think it’s great because of the social-emotional impact it’s having on the residents,” Beaudette said. “I just hope it’s done carefully.”

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

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