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Coronavirus infections continue to rise at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home; 32 dead

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)

The number of veterans living at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who have tested positive for the coronavirus continues to increase while one additional resident has died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

A dozen additional veterans have now tested positive, meaning more than half the residents at the state-run home for the elderly and infirm have contracted the virus, officials for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said.

Currently 32 veterans have died from COVID-19 and 88 have contracted the virus. Six other residents have died of other causes since the first veteran tested positive from COVID-19 on March 21. When the virus was first detected there were about 210 residents at the home.

Staff at the Soldiers’ Home has recently partnered with Holyoke Medical Center and Baystate Health to improve testing and is now getting results within 24 hours, officials said.

Tests of all employees show 78 have contracted the disease while 222 employees have tested negative, officials said.

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After learning at least eight people had died of what was believed to have been COVID-19 in six days and more than two-dozen were suspected to be infected, a team from Health and Human Services came in to examine the problems at the Soldiers’ Home on March 30. Superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave that day and Val Liptak, a registered nurse and CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital in Westfield, was tapped to take over the administrative role.

Walsh has said any accusation of wrong-doing or mismanagement is “outrageous.” In a written statement released on Thursday Walsh said he kept state officials updated on the home’s situation as it daily grew more desperate and requested help from the National Guard but was denied. Local and state officials have said they were not aware of the extent to which the virus was spreading.

The Board of Trustees for the Soldiers’ Home was scheduled to meet on Saturday morning presumably to hold a hearing to discuss terminating Walsh. That meeting was cancelled after a Hampden Superior Court judge approved a request for a temporary restraining order to block the meeting.

To help veterans at the home celebrate Easter on Sunday, three chaplains from the Massachusetts National Guard held a service that was televised to all residents who wanted to watch. The chaplains then visited staff and residents at the home, state officials said.

To improve communications between residents and their families while the home continues to be closed to all visitors, the Military Friends Foundation is planning to purchase iPads for the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes so veterans can easier communicate with families.

The devices are being purchased with money raised from the organization’s recently-launched COVID-19 Military Families Relief Fund, officials said.

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© 2020 MassLive.com