BOSTON/HOLYOKE (WGGB/WSHM) -- A federal investigation has been launched into the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
The U.S. Attorney's office announced Friday that their office, along with the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, will be looking into whether the facility violated residents rights by failing to provide them with adequate medical care in general, as well as during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be difficult to overstate our obligation to the health and well-being of elderly and disabled military veterans and, by extension, to their families. The federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act specifically protects the rights of those confined in state facilities like the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home...We will aggressively investigate recent events at the Home and, as needed, require the Commonwealth to adopt reforms to ensure patient safety in the future. My condolences to the families of those veterans who died while in the Home’s care; we will get to the bottom of what happened here," said Andrew Lelling, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, in a statement.
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Officials said that the investigation will be done under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). According to Lelling's office, that gives the DOJ authority to investigate Constitutional and federal law violations that result from a “pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of such rights” in state-run institutions, including nursing facilities.
On Thursday, the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services reported that 32 residents had died and that many of those people were positive for COVID-19. In addition, other residents, as well as several staff members, have tested positive.
The investigation launched Friday is now the third involving the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
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Last week, Gov. Baker hired a former prosecutor to lead an independent investigation into the facility, and this week, Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey said that her office was also conducting a separate investigation.
Soldiers' Home superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave as the state investigations are underway.
Western Mass News learned of the visitor lockdown in mid-March.
By March 22, viewers with loved ones in the home sent a letter they were given by facility officials informing them that one resident tested positive.
Three days later, Walsh claimed in his statement that he reached out to state officials informing them the facility had staffing shortages. He also claimed to have told the state he was relocating residents to different parts of the building.
By March 27, Walsh claims to have notified the state of two deaths, along with a series of illnesses and symptoms.
By March 29, eight residents were dead, and Walsh claims he notified the state of the additional deaths.
“State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark," Walsh said.
“We did not always know what was going on,” said Joseph Ramirez, certified nursing assistant at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
Ramirez is also vice president of the local union chapter representing CNAs.
“I never have been through a sickness like this before,” he said.
He also is recovering from the coronavirus. Ramirez told Western Mass News the investigations into the home are needed.
He said that if Walsh had requested help from the state, no employees were told.
“Why weren’t we ever -- as employees -- notified to say, 'Hey, you know, we reached out to the National Guard to get some help for you, you know, hang tight,’” he said.
As residents were dying, Ramirez said it was soon after that employees were becoming sick, and that the home wasn't ready for outbreak.
“I don’t think anybody was prepared for the storm that came. I don’t think our administration was prepared. We certainly weren’t prepared,” Ramirez said.
Residents or families of Soldiers' Home residents are encouraged to contact the U.S. Attorney's office at (888) 221-6023 or by email.
More information on the case can be found here.