Roger Johnson: Former VA director weighs in

Published: 5/19/2020 1:08:54 PM

The state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was the perfect target for the coronavirus.

First, it is a nursing home. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found 60% of COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts are linked to people being in or related to nursing homes.

Secondly, the Soldiers’ Home is a center of excellence for the care of patients with dementia, creating substantial additional challenges in isolating this patient population.

Finally, as Gazette columnist John Paradis indicated in this newspaper, the bedrooms at the Soldiers’ Home do not meet current sizes standards. There were two and three beds in rooms which would only hold one bed in modern facilities. As Paradis indicated, Superintendent Paul Barabani, supported by Paradis as his deputy and Steve Como on the board of directors, had a plan to address this through a construction project. The federal VA would have funded two-thirds of the cost of this project. The state only had to commit one-third of the funds. This one-third would be further reduced when factoring in the taxes that would be paid to the state by the employees working on the construction.

Had this project been completed, the veterans at the Soldiers’ Home would have been housed in more appropriate rooms and there would have been more options for segregating patients once the virus hit. While this disaster may still have occurred, as Paradis indicated, this construction would have given them a fighting chance.

As the state looks at the cause of this disaster, it is hoped that they include an assessment of the facilities, how they contributed to the issue, and how to pursue the physical changes to minimize a recurrence.

Roger Johnson

The writer is a retired federal Veterans Affairs director.

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