State senator reacts to recent cluster of COVID-19 cases at Holyoke Veterans’ Home

In the spring of 2020, a coronavirus outbreak at the Holyoke Veterans’ Home claimed the lives of 84 veterans.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 11:15 AM EDT
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HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- In the spring of 2020, a coronavirus outbreak at the Holyoke Veterans’ Home claimed the lives of 84 veterans.

On Wednesday, Western Mass News learned that COVID-19 cases are once again rising at the facility with 10 veterans testing positive for the virus since Saturday. State Senator John Velis said officials are stepping in to prevent history from repeating itself.

“For right now, the state is doing everything they can, but needless to say, we will be checking in frequently and watching those numbers very closely. Obviously, I’m concerned.
There’s a lot of tragic things that happened on top of the hill,” said Velis.

Following the devastating outbreak of 2020, the state-run facility faced scrutiny for the way it was handled, particularly with their decision to combine symptomatic and asymptomatic veterans in a single unit. Velis said the state is responding differently this time around.

“We just revamped the entirety of the governance structure of the homes. One of the main lessons that I took from 2020, I should say ‘we’ as a legislature, is that a chain of command matters when things happen. This is a perfect example, a COVID outbreak. We need to create a process from the time it takes that information to get from the home all the way to the top where people make decisions. We need to make sure that’s expedient, that’s effective, and it’s not excessively burdensome,” said Velis.

Velis said it’s that quick and effective communication that can keep an outbreak like this from getting out of control. Also improving this time around. The way the home communicates with the resident’s families also improved this time around. Velis said the home is holding virtual meetings to update families. It’s something Susan Kenney, who lost her father during the 2020 outbreak, told us last month was an emotional challenge she faced.

“My father was one of the veterans that passed during the outbreak on April 15, 2020. it started because I didn’t get an answer trying to call way back then over 30 hours. so, I drove up here with my dad, dead or alive, written on my car which got some balls rolling,” said Kenney.

Velis also told us we’re seeing a drastic change in the way the home and other agencies have responded to this outbreak compared to the one in 2020. His staff is working closely with the executive office of Veterans Affairs and other health officials to ensure they are staying on top of the situation and planning ahead.