20 iPads delivered to veterans at Soldiers’ Home

  • Signs, flags, flowers and wreaths are placed at the entrance to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, April 8. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2020 5:03:37 PM

HOLYOKE — As a COVID-19 outbreak continues within the Soldiers’ Home, families have been trapped on the outside, unable to visit their loved ones.

Now, several organizations are trying to improve that situation.

On Monday, a group of western Massachusetts veterans services officers, together with the state Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter and the Military Friends Foundation, delivered 20 iPads to veterans living in the Soldiers’ Home.

“We were hearing about the isolation of the veterans inside,” said Steve Connor, director of the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services. “It’s going to allow them to have face-to-face contact in the best way we can, rather than random cell calls”

The delivery comes as deaths continue to mount within the facility. On Monday, state officials announced that 62 resident veterans have died since the outbreak began, 52 of whom tested positive for COVID-19. One of the veterans who passed away has a pending test for the virus, and the status of another is currently unknown.

With 247 beds in the facility, Monday’s announcement means that more than 20% of the facility’s residents have now died from COVID-19. On Friday, acting superintendent Val Liptak told the facility’s trustees that 65% of residents had tested positive for the coronavirus.

State officials said 89 veteran residents have now tested positive, and that 11 have tests pending. In addition, 81 employees have tested positive.

One veteran from the facility who recently died was James Sullivan, a Northampton native who was just four days shy of his 100th birthday. An Army veteran, Bronze Star recipient and former city councilor who worked as a custodian at Ryan Road Elementary School, Sullivan died on Friday at Holyoke Medical Center.

In a phone interview Monday, Sullivan’s daughter, 69-year-old Ellie Laprade, declined to say whether her father had died from COVID-19. She said that he had been in the Soldiers’ Home since 2015, and that the care had been excellent in the facility.

Laprade said her father got to know many of his caregivers personally, and would refer to many of them as “pal.”

“He was a super dad, super grandfather, super great grandfather,” Laprade said.

Laprade said she hadn’t seen her father since March 7, given the fact that the Soldiers’ Home barred visitors from entering later that month in an effort to prevent an outbreak. She said that when she learned somebody had tested positive in the facility, it frightened her.

“It was difficult,” she said of knowing the virus was spreading in the facility.

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