HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- The now-suspended superintendent at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is speaking out.

This comes as Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office begins to investigate the circumstances leading up to the deaths of 25 veterans at the facility, at least 18 of them testing positive for COVID-19.

Benentt Walsh, superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home, told Western Mass News in a statement that while many people said state officials were left in the dark, he said those reports are false.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is under investigation by the Healey’s office, as well as an independent investigator hired by Gov. Charlie Baker, after more than two dozen veterans died at the facility - a majority with positive test results for COVID-19.

Baker reiterated this week that his administration should have been notified earlier.

However, Walsh released a statement to Western Mass News that said state officials knew what was going on at the Soldiers’ Home and they were not left in the dark.

Walsh said in part:

"We provided updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. These updates were by phone, text, email, conference calls and official report forms. These updates were made at various times to the staffs of the Secretary of Veteran Services (DVS), the Executive office of Health and Human Services (EOHH) and the Department of Public Health (DPH)."

Walsh explained that on March 27, state officials were notified that 28 veterans were showing symptoms of the coronavirus and samples were sent for testing.

The 28 veterans were living in different locations at the facility.

Walsh said also on March 27, 10 veterans were positive for COVID-19 and three were negative. The test results for 15 veterans were pending.

Two veterans had died, one with a positive test and one with test results pending.

Walsh went on to say, in part:

"At mid-day Friday March 27 I requested that National Guard medical personnel be sent to the Soldiers’ Home to assist our staff. That request was denied."

He said says state officials were notified that the home was in a crisis mode regarding staff shortages, but he said between Friday night on March 27 and Sunday morning on March 29:

"...6 more veterans died bringing the total number of deaths to eight. By Sunday afternoon we had determined that 4 deaths were positive for the coronavirus and 4 deaths had test results still pending. The delay in getting test results was frustrating to all. This information was reported to state officials on Sunday afternoon at about 4:30 pm."

Walsh said:

"State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark."

Walsh said he has been interviewed twice by investigators and is fully participating in the process. He has been placed on paid administrated leave during the investigation.

Walsh's full statement appears below:

"Governor Baker has initiated a full review of my actions as Superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. I am cooperating with this investigation and thus far I have been interviewed on two occasions by investigators. I am committed to full participation in the process.

There have been widespread reports in the media that state officials were kept in the dark about what was happening at the Soldiers’ Home during the Covid-19 crisis. These reports are false.

We provided updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. These updates were by phone, text, email, conference calls and official report forms. These updates were made at various times to the staffs of the Secretary of Veteran Services (DVS), the Executive office of Health and Human Services (EOHH) and the Department of Public Health (DPH).

Specifically, as of Friday afternoon March 27, we had notified state officials that:

: 28 veterans had exhibited symptoms of the corona virus and samples had been collected and sent for testing

: these 28 veterans were living in diffferent locations

: test results for 13 had been received

: 10 veterans were positive and 3 were negative

: test results for 15 veterans were pending

: 2 veterans had died; 1 with a positive test result and 1 with test results pending.

Events were happening rapidly and these statistics were again updated in the early evening when the test result for the second veteran who had died was determined to be positive. There were now 2 confirmed coronavirus related deaths.

The first veteran who showed symptoms resided in North 1. The first veteran who died with a confirmed positive resided in North 2. These veterans were on different floors and physically separated from each other. It was clear that the virus was not confined to one area but was infecting veterans throughout the facility and our medical resources were stretched to the limit.

At mid-day Friday March 27 I requested that National Guard medical personnel be sent to the Soldiers’ Home to assist our staff. That request was denied.

We also notified state officials that we were in a crisis mode regarding staff shortages. 25 % of the workforce was not reporting to work. These work shortages, and the knowledge that our veterans were extremely vulnerable to the virus, were taking a toll on the staff who had reported for duty. I requested trained grief support counselors to assist our staff who were dealing with the hardest hit units.

The staff shortage was so acute, and the number of Veterans with known or suspected Covid-19 so large, that the medical staff was forced to close some areas and place these men in the same unit. This action to “cohort” the veterans was reviewed with the Department of Public Health on Wednesday March 25 and accomplished on Friday March 27.

Between Friday night and Sunday morning 6 more veterans died bringing the total number of deaths to eight. By Sunday afternoon we had determined that 4 deaths were positive for the coronavirus and 4 deaths had test results still pending. The delay in getting test results was frustrating to all. This information was reported to state officials on Sunday afternoon at about 4:30 pm.

It is very disappointing to me that during this time of unspeakable horror the staffs at EOHH, DVS and DPH have remained silent and have let the lie that they didn’t know what was going on persist.

State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark.

It is gut-wrenching to observe the devastation the virus has caused my fellow veterans. These are men I helped to care for with affection and respect. I again express my sincere sympathy to their families."

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