HOLYOKE – Two more veterans have died of COVID-19 in the past day at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and three more residents have tested positive for the coronavirus making it arguably the deadliest outbreak of the disease in any health care facility nationwide.
By Tuesday, 71% of the about 210 veterans who were living in the Home when the virus was first detected in a resident on March 21 have contracted COVID-19. A total of 68 veterans, or nearly one-third of the residents, have died of the disease, according to officials for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
The cause of death of another resident is unknown and 11 people have died of other causes since the outbreak began, officials said.
In addition, 82 residents have now tested positive for the disease and test results are pending on three more veterans, officials said.
Health and Human Services sent a team of experts to Holyoke on March 30 after learning at least eight residents had died of COVID-19 in a matter of a few days and more residents were believed to be infected with the coronavirus. By noon Superintendent Bennett Walsh had been placed on paid administrative leave and Val Liptak, a registered nurse and CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital was tapped to take over the administration.
Walsh has denied any allegations of wrong-doing or mismanagement and filed a court injunction that temporarily blocked a Soldiers’ Home Board of Trustees hearing reportedly designed to discuss his dismissal. He too is believed to have contracted COVID-19, court records said.
The state also set up a clinical team, headed by Lisa Colombo, executive vice chancellor for Commonwealth Medicine and a former hospital administrator, and staffed with experts in infectious disease, finance and operations to try to stabilize the Soldiers’ Home. About 160 National Guard members have been working there for nearly a month assisting nursing staff, delivering needed protective equipment and working with families, officials said.
A total of 81 employees have also tested positive and many are on leave, officials said.
Currently, there are 106 of the original residents living at the home and 33 who tested negative are living in a unit set up by Holyoke Medical Center designed to keep them safe and allow for more distancing at the Soldiers’ Home. Seven more residents are receiving “acute care” offsite, officials said.
“As veteran residents are being cared for, their status and symptoms are being closely monitored and they are being retested as appropriate,” officials said.
Residents are moved to different locations if they are suspected of contracting COVID-19 or they test positive so they can be quarantined from those who test negative, officials said.
The Soldiers’ Home also received a new shipment of gowns and coveralls this week for employees. Coaches also continue to work with staff to ensure they are properly wearing protective equipment properly, officials said.
State Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, visited the home last week and spoke to some of the 28 residents who have tested negative. He also spent time getting an update from Colombo and Liptak and praised the entire staff for the work they are doing.
“I think they are doing everything in their power to stabilize and right the ship,” he said. “They are doing everything in their power to stop people from dying. They are doing everything in their power to stop the spread of this horrible, insidious disease.”