Members of Mass. congressional delegation seek more resources in battle against COVID-19 in veterans’ homes

“We remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the Commonwealth.”

The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke.
The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. –Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe

Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are expressing their concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus at veterans’ homes. 

Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and representatives Richard Neal and Ayanna Pressley sent a letter to Ryan Lilly, network director at the VA New England Healthcare System, expressing their concerns about the COVID-19 outbreaks at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, asking that more resources be obtained and deployed to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

As of Friday, 21 veterans have died at the Holyoke facility, at least 15 of whom tested positive for COVID-19. Two residents diagnosed with the virus have died at the Chelsea home. 

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“We remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the Commonwealth,” the lawmakers wrote. “Although we are encouraged by efforts underway to stop the spread at both facilities, the Soldiers’ Homes, like VA facilities, hospitals and health care providers across Massachusetts, continue to lack desperately needed supplies and guidance. Therefore, we urge you to work diligently to obtain more resources so that the Soldiers’ Homes and VA health care facilities in Massachusetts have the resources to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19 patients and to further mitigate the risk of infection to veterans and staff.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered an independent investigation into the outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where it has been alleged that mismanagement of the infections contributed to the spread of the virus and that the cases were not properly reported to the appropriate public health entities. The superintendent of the Holyoke home, Bennett Walsh, has been placed on administrative leave and says there was no wrongdoing. 

Markey, Warren, Neal, and Pressley wrote that they are concerned that the Chelsea home is on “the path to a similar outbreak” given the shortages of medical supplies across the state and the high-risk population in the facility.

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“We are also concerned about the potential for further spread of coronavirus at other VA facilities in the Commonwealth,” they wrote. “The Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes represent only a subset of VA long-term care facilities in Massachusetts. VA community living centers (CLCs, or nursing homes) in Massachusetts could face similar concerns regarding coronavirus. We have also heard anecdotal reports from other VA facilities in Massachusetts that VA staff lack needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and are being directed to continue working even after exposure to coronavirus and are not effectively isolating potentially infected veterans.”

Read their full letter here.



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