COVID-19 outbreak at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke 

  • Soldiers' Home in Holyoke on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Managing Editor
Published: 3/30/2020 8:37:06 PM

HOLYOKE – A COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke has resulted in several resident deaths while nearly a dozen other veterans and five staff members have tested positive for the disease, according to the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services. 

The state agency reported Monday that 11 veteran residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and that 11 other veterans have died, including five who also tested positive. Five other veteran residents who died have pending test results and one is unknown.  Another 25 veteran residents have pending test results, according to state health officials.  

Also Monday, Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave immediately and replaced by Val Liptak, currently CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, who will assume responsibility for the facility, according to state health officials. 

The state has implemented an onsite clinical command team consisting of medical, epidemiological, and operational experts responsible for the “comprehensive and rapid response to the outbreak of COVID-19.”

“It is imperative that the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home provide a safe environment for the veteran residents, and the dedicated staff who serve them,” Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Dan Tsai said in a statement Monday evening.

The Soldiers' Home is a state-funded, fully accredited health care facility that offers veterans health care, hospice care, including full-time residential accommodations, an on-site dental clinic, veterans assistance center, and a multi-service outpatient department. 

The clinical command team will report to Liptak and is composed of clinical operations experts from Commonwealth Medicine, epidemiologists from the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Infectious Diseases and Lab Sciences, the medical director at MassHealth, leadership from the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, and other clinical, operational, and logistical experts, including resources from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The team will be responsible for continuing all COVID-19 related protocols – including isolation/quarantine protocols and cleaning – already in place and assessing and implementing new protocols. The team held its first meeting at noon on Monday. 

“All of these enhancements will build upon the existing protocols and work that align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance,” Tsai said. “Today’s actions underscore the state’s commitment to our veterans and frontline health care employees during this unprecedented public health crisis.”

All resources at the Soldiers’ Home are at the clinical command team’s disposal to ensure an immediate and full response to the situation and the National Guard has been requested to support on-site testing of residents and will expedite the results, according to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. 

 In a statement Monday night, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse described the situation as “a difficult day for our city, and it is almost certain that more difficult days will follow.” 

"It has been devastating to hear about the full extent of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home,” Morse said. “While I am grateful that the state is now taking swift action to ensure residents and staff get necessary care and treatment, I am grief-stricken for those we have already lost, and my heart goes out to their families and friends. The devastating impact of this virus on an individual is made worse by the limitations on their loved ones to mourn and grieve in traditional ways for those who have passed. To the families who have lost a loved one, know that all of Holyoke shares your grief. I’ve requested that flags in the city be lowered to half-mast tomorrow morning in their honor, for their service to our country, and to our community.”

Morse said state health officials have agreed to provide the city with frequent updates as the situation at the Soldiers’ Home unfolds and he aims to update the public with what the city learns. 

“It is in large part thanks to the outreach of staff from the state-run facility to my office on Saturday that I was alerted to the growing issues at the Soldiers’ Home,” he said. 

According to state health officials, Soldiers’ Home residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 and who are awaiting test results have been isolated and the employees have been advised to quarantine until they are asymptomatic, according to CDC guidelines. Any resident who presents symptoms for COVID-19 also is being tested. Families of residents who are tested for COVID-19 are contacted by medical staff of the Soldiers' Home, notifying them of the test and its results.

In addition, MEMA on Friday distributed tents to 24/7 state-operated facilities as a single point of entry screening site. At the conclusion of the screening, the employee is given personal protective equipment before entering the facility. ​




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