CHICOPEE – The City Council has become the latest to throw support behind a proposal to expand and renovate the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home after 76 residents died in a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Council voted unanimously last week to endorse a proclamation calling for the rebuilding of the home, so each resident has a private room and bathroom and space is added for an adult daycare.
“I think the veterans’ (home) is a good cause,” City Councilor James Tillotson said. “They certainly ought to take care of Western Massachusetts.”
Tillotson said the state spent nearly $200 million to upgrade and rebuild the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea in 2017 and it is time to now focus on making improvements to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
Mayor John L. Vieau said he would also sign the resolution, Council President Shane D. Brooks said.
The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs agreed to provide 65% of the money to modernize and expand the Soldiers’ Home in 2012, but the state never approved the additional funding needed to move the plan forward.
In March, an outbreak of COVID-19 spread through the home infecting about 75% of the elderly veterans who lived there, killing at least 76. Investigations blamed the rapid spread of the virus on the “baffling” decision to combat a staffing shortage by combining veterans from two dementia units into one, consolidating other housing units and placing nine veterans in a dining room. Former superintendent Bennett Walsh and medical director Dr. David Clinton have been indicted on 10 charges each in some of the deaths. Both plan to plead not guilty to the charges.
After the deaths, past employees and administrators and families of veterans formed the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition to lobby the state to fast-track the process to upgrade the home. The group argued the virus would have not spread so quickly if the facility was built to modern infection control standards and residents were not living in tight quarters.
State officials have accelerated a study on the upgrades in the hopes of submitting a grant proposal to receive federal funding for the project before an April 2021 deadline.
Chicopee joins multiple other cities and towns across Western Massachusetts in supporting the upgrades. Some of the other communities include Amherst, Belchertown, Wilbraham, Granby, Ludlow, Southwick, Granville, Holyoke, Hadley, Monson, Chesterfield, Williamsburg, Middlefield, Chester, Cummington, Northampton and Worthington.