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24 Holyoke Soldiers’ Home veterans now dead of suspected COVID-19, 68 staff test positive

A sign explaining all visitors are banned from the Holyoke Soldiers' Home is on the main door of the facility. As many as a dozen people are believed to have died from the virus since Wednesday. (Jeanette DeForge/TNS)

Two more residents from the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who were believed to have been infected with COVID-19 have died and an additional employee has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Officials for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that a total of 24 residents are believed to have now died of COVID-19 since the first veteran tested positive for the disease on March 21. Tests have confirmed 20 people who have died suffered from COVID-19 while three tests are pending and one is unknown. Three more residents died in the same time frame from other causes.

There are currently 62 residents who have tested positive and are being treated at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home or at hospitals, state officials said.

About 210 veterans lived at the state-operated home when the virus hit.

A total of 134 residents have tested negative, 91 remain living at the Soldiers’ Home and another 46 have been transferred to a unit at the Holyoke Medical Center to keep them safe from the spreading virus, officials said.

“All veterans who have tested negative are being continuously evaluated by clinicians and tests are reordered based on medical status,” officials said. “The team has ordered retesting for 18 veterans as of today and will continue to reorder additional tests.”

All veterans at the Soldiers’ Home were tested by March 31 but statistics show at least six of the people who tested negative have since contracted COVID-19.

By Wednesday, 68 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and 210 have tested negative. Testing was expected to be completed on Wednesday for all on-site employees and those who are on medical leave or are working offsite also have the option of being tested, officials said.

After learning that multiple residents had died of COVID-19 and more were infected with the virus, a team from Health and Human Services visited the Soldiers’ Home on March 30 to examine the situation.

By the end of the day officials had placed Superintendent Bennett Walsh on paid administrative leave and Val Liptak, a registered nurse and CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital in Westfield, was tapped to take over the administrative role. Chief Operating Officer Anthony DiStefano is overseeing day-to-day operations of the facility.

The state also formed an onsite clinical command team made up of medical, epidemiological, and operational experts to respond to the outbreak. The National Guard is also assisting and augmenting the depleted staff.

Walsh has denied any wrong-doing in the management of the facility and said he welcomes the results of the Governor’s office investigation. In a written statement, he offered his sympathy to the families of the veterans and thanked staff for their dedication.

Three separate investigations into what happened at the home have now been ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker, area legislators and Attorney General Maura Healey.

Officials at the state also continue to improve communications with families who have complained they were left in the dark for days and weeks about the spreading virus and the health conditions of their relatives in the home.

Social workers were brought to the Soldiers’ Home on Monday to assist nurse case managers with helping families connect with residents since visiting has been prohibited starting on March 14. Several families have said they have been able to communicate with veterans using Facetime set up by staff.

By Tuesday all relatives who have written permission to receive information about a veteran have been contacted and received a clinical update on the resident. The team will also be reaching out to families to establish regular contact, officials said.


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