HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Questions of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home's future - raised in a board of trustees meeting last night.
Board members proposed the facility may have outlived its useful purpose.
Now, a former superintendent from the home in the early 2010s is speaking out and fearing the home could be closed.
Former Superintendent Paul Barabani said fixing the overcrowding doesn't require another study or a reduction in capacity.
Barabani said all it takes is a few adjustments to a 2012 renovation plan he claims never funded by the state.
"One could raise the question that the building has outlasted its legitimate viability," said Holyoke Soldiers' Home's Board of Trustees chair member Kevin Jourdain.
A question raised by the Holyoke Soldiers' Home's Board of Trustees chair Kevin Jourdain at Tuesday's virtual meeting.
A question - that former superintendent of the home Paul Barabani - broke his months-long silence to answer.
"I was shocked that they were unaware of this project’s existence," Barabani
Barabani who ran the home starting in 2011 and resigned in late 2015, has stayed quiet on the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
Nearly 80 veterans who died, tested positive for the virus.
PPE shortages, crowded rooms, and short staffing have been blamed for the virus’s spread.
Barabani - countering Jourdain’s question on the building’s viability - said a 2012 project he worked to develop, could fix those problems.
"It called for the construction of a five-floor new building which would house 120 private rooms for the veterans," Barabani explained.
Barabani claimed the plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and said if the state would commit funding to the project, the department will still help with the rest.
"The funding still exists with the V.A. federal government picking up 65 percent of the cost," Barabani said.
It was a project Barabani said he pushed for during his time as superintendent, however, he claims state officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Services pushed back and the state funding was never committed during his tenure.
"I was given pretty explicit guidance that we didn’t want to talk about new construction," Barabani explained.
Western Mass News found several documents through the years - of Barabani’s pushing - studies, and recommendations the home be renovated.
Even as the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home was approved for a near $200-million renovation in 2017, Barabani said Holyoke was just promised another study.
"Ours was put on the shelf," Barabani said.
Barabani said the 2012 renovation project could still be approved this year - if the 2012 price tag of $160 million - was adjusted for inflation.
But he said the state needs to act fast in committing the 35 percent of the funding.
"If we don’t meet the 1st of august deadline then it’s another full fiscal year that we have to wait. So that’s too much delay, we need to take immediate action," Barabani explained.
For a man who stayed quiet throughout the last few months, as COVID-19 ravaged the inside of the facility’s walls, Barabani wants the veterans to know - just because he was quiet - doesn’t mean he was idle.
"Just let them know that I’m still fighting the battle, you know for them, and for future generations of veterans," Barabani explained.
Western Mass News asked Barabani about the state’s $2 million proposal to eliminate 50 beds from the home and improve infection control measures in the building.
He said that it doesn’t address the needs of the veterans in the community and claimed it was like putting lipstick on a pig.