CHICOPEE/HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A state legislator from Chicopee is calling for more action to be taken following the conclusion of the investigation into Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
Representative Joseph Wagner, joined by several western Mass. lawmakers, said he wanted to unify after hearing the governor’s proposed reforms for the facility, which was ravaged by COVID-19.
At this plaza dedicated to veterans from different conflicts, the lawmakers held a moment of silence on Friday, for the 97 veterans who died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home since March; 76 of them tested positive for COVID-19.
Wagner said he wants to join with local advocates and other lawmakers to ensure another deadly outbreak never happens again.
"I’ve been shaken by what has happened at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home," Wagner said.
A group of legislators - joined together - vowing to get every resource necessary to make the soldiers’ home a safe and healthy place to live.
Following an independent investigation into the home’s COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Charlie Baker announcing a list of reforms and changes to the home, including a new needs assessment for the building itself.
Wagner told Western Mass News he was surprised to see another study proposed for the home, which recently underwent an assessment completed in 2017.
"You know it has me thinking that that wasn’t part of the consideration," Wagner noted.
Wagner told Western Mass News that expedited timeline for a capital improvement plan should be able to benefit from that recent study. The governor’s goal is to submit a plan for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs funding by April of 2021.
It’s a bit later than the July 31 deadline proposed by a local coalition of veterans advocates, who wanted to see plans submitted for this fiscal year.
"I’m pragmatic, and I know that to get everyone collectively on the same page, that’s going to take time," Wagner explained.
Paul Barabani, a former superintendent who served in the early 2010s, is a member of that advocacy coalition, called "Fund Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Now."
He told Western Mass News he’s agreeable to the later deadline if his group can have a hand in developing the renovation plan.
"If the right people have input to that, and I hope again that our coalition will have a voice in the deliberations," Barabani said.
Barabani, however, also said he was disheartened to see the governor’s proposal this week, contained plans for another needs assessment.
"When I see the word study, it just means delay," Barabani said.,
Barabani also takes issue with the governor’s proposal to make the state's secretaries of Veterans’ Services and Health and Human Services, ex-officio members of the home’s board of trustees.
He feels the more people from the state involved on the board, the less they will advocate for the veterans’ healthcare.
"Are you going to be loyal to the governor and the administration or you going to be loyal to the veterans in the bed, who are their voice to seek what they need?" Barabani noted.
Barabani told us allowing the secretary of Mass. Health and Human Services to appoint the next superintendent will similarly dissolve the board of trustee’s power.
As for Wagner, he said his next move will be to propose a meeting with state officials at the soldiers’ home in western Mass, rather than Beacon Hill.