COVID-19 UpdatesHCN News & Notes

Eleven Dead at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in March, at Least Five Due to COVID-19

HOLYOKE — Eleven veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home have died between March 1 and March 30, at least five due to COVID-19. Eleven other veterans and five staff have tested positive for the virus, and 25 veterans are awaiting test results. Bennett Walsh, the home’s superintendent, has been placed on leave.

“It is imperative that the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home provide a safe environment for the veteran residents and the dedicated staff who serve them,” Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Dan Tsai said on Monday. “Superintendent Bennett Walsh has been placed on paid administrative leave effective immediately. Val Liptak, RN, currently the CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, will assume responsibility for the administration of the Soldiers’ Home at this time.

“We have also implemented an on-site clinical command team comprised of medical, epidemiological, and operational experts responsible for the comprehensive and rapid response to the outbreak of COVID-19,” Tsai added. “All of these enhancements will build upon the existing protocols and work that align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance. Today’s actions underscore the state’s commitment to our veterans and frontline healthcare employees during this unprecedented public-health crisis.”

In a tweet Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said that, “as someone who has visited the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home on many occasions to catch up with staff and residents, I am heartbroken by today’s news. The loss of these residents to COVID-19 is a shuddering loss for us all.”

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse issued a statement as well, noting that “this is a difficult day for our city, and it is almost certain that more difficult days will follow. Today is a painful reminder that, while many people will experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, there are those among us who are at much higher risk, and we must be vigilant in our care for ourselves to ensure the safety of all. I call on all Holyokers to consider your actions, to be sure to follow social distancing to the best of your abilities, to contact your friends and loved ones, and to take care of yourselves both physically and mentally. While we need distance from each other now, we are in this fight together.”

He added that Holyoke is receiving frequent updates from state health officals as the situation at the Soldiers’ Home unfolds, and he will continue to update the public with what he learns.

“It is in large part thanks to the outreach of staff from the state-run facility to my office on Saturday that I was alerted to the growing issues at the Soldiers’ Home,” Morse added. “I want to thank Lieutenant Governor Polito and Secretary of Health and Human Services [Marylou] Sudders for taking immediate action upon my request, but, most importantly, thank you to the nurses and staff at the Soldiers’ Home who cared for those whom we have lost, and who continue to care for those in need.”