BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — A coalition of veterans, their family members, veteran services representatives, and concerned residents have sent a petition to Gov. Charlie Baker asking his administration to immediately approve a project that would result in a new wing for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.
The veterans' residence was the site of one of the state's early outbreaks of coronavirus, prompting three separate investigations by the Attorney General Maura Healy, Governor Baker's office, and U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.
The group behind the petition says back in 2013, a project was approved for 65 percent federal funding that would have resulted in "a five story addition" to the Soldiers’ Home, which could have allowed for less crowding and more isolation during the coronavirus outbreak had it been built.
However, the project remains stagnant because it never received a commitment from the Baker Administration for state matching funds to proceed.
In the wake of the pandemic, the push to get the funding for the expansion is being led by Laurie Mandeville-Beaudette of Springfield, the daughter of a resident who died of COVID-19.
"I need to voice my support for the construction of a new state Soldier’s Home in Holyoke. I know that I speak on behalf of many other family members that feel the same way. I lost my beloved father from the COVID -19 virus on April 14, 2020. As a family member that has been visiting the Soldier’s Home for the past 16 years, I have seen the fluctuations in the quality of care provided to the veteran residents there. I have noticed that the quality of care is directly tied to the amount of funding and staff employed at the Soldier’s Home."
The letter to Gov. Baker says the quality of care at the Holyoke Soldier's Home was "excellent" before June 2015, which is when the signatories say "approximately 50 staff" were allowed to take early retirement.
"Those positions were never replaced," said Mandeville-Beaudette. "I immediately noticed that the quality of care at this beloved home began to spiral downwards."
The petition is asking the state to pledge the remaining 35 percent funding, which would create a 120-bed, all private room facility, allowing the current facility to be renovated to provide one and two-person rooms.
"This new construction is imperative in order to provide better infection control, greater independence, safety and a much improved quality of life for veteran residents in Western Mass," says the petition.
According to Western Mass News, as of Saturday June 20th, 96 veterans have died at Holyoke Soldier's Home, 76 of whom died of coronavirus, 17 of whom tested negative for the virus, one was unknown, and two had tested positive but recovered from COVID-19 before passing away.
The state Department of Public Health says all residents at the Holyoke Soldiers Home have been tested and re-tested for the virus. It reports less than five residents are positive, and 81 have recovered from COVID-19.
(Photo: Getty Images)