HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A former superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home from the early 2010s' is taking his advocacy public.
There is now a petition which is pressuring the state to fund an expansion project developed years ago.
Last week, Paul Barabani told Western Mass News that he has never stopped fighting for the veterans at the home.
The state said 76 veterans who died during the COVID-19 outbreak tested positive and Barabani told us it’s not too late for the state to fund an expansion project he claims will provide more space for the residents.
"A little over 16 years. 16 years and four months," said veteran relative Laurie Mandeville-Beaudette.
That's how long Mandeville-Beaudette’s father, James Mandeville lived at the soldiers’ home in Holyoke.
A navy veteran who traveled the world, died this past April after contracting COVID-19, according to his daughter, however, Mandeville-Beaudette said she witnessed declining care in the home since a 2015 early retirement program left unfilled staff vacancies.
"The morale became bad," Mandeville-Beaudette noted.
When the news of veterans getting sick and dying from COVID-19 came to light, Paul Barabani knew he had to do something.
"We started this as a project to create memorials at both the Agawam cemetery and soldiers' home," Barabani said.
Barabani, who served as superintendent in the early 2010s, believes the problems he dealt with during his tenure continued to get worse and allowed COVID-19 to wreak havoc.
"The lack of adequate space in rooms allowed for the spread of the infection and the lack of adequate staffing just exacerbated the situation," Barabani explained.
Barabani, Mandeville-Beaudette, and a committee of veteran advocates have come together to push for a solution - Barabani said - that was developed in 2012.
"What better monument than having the home finally have the construction and renovations that it needed," Barabani said.
They began a website, called “www.fundholyokesoldiershomenow.org” and the website outlines a 2012 expansion project Barabani claims is already 65 percent funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
He claims this project has had the federal funding for years but hasn't gotten the 35 percent commitment from the state.
"Any, in my mind, objective, reasonably intelligent person can see the betrayal of the residents of the soldiers' home in Holyoke, with the continued lack of attention," Barabani noted.
There’s a link to a petition on the website, asking people to call their legislators and write the governor in support of the multi-million dollar project.
"We’re looking at a goal of accomplishing a commitment of state funding by July 31," Barabani explained.
"This is the best way to memorialize them, is to have a better, new, and improved soldiers' home," Mandeville-Beaudette said.
Their goal of keeping veterans safe from infection comes too late and as a now bittersweet holiday draws near for the families affected by the outbreak.
"Sunday we’re gonna celebrate Father’s Day you know? I look at Laurie, I think about, you know, the other family members, that the first time in their life, they’re not gonna have, you know, that father with them," Barabani noted.
Western Mass News reached out to the state for a response, and they told us they're in discussions with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on capital support, saying quote:
"Long-term solutions must include current needs for infection control, revised veteran affairs building standards, and codes, and other needs to support safe and quality care for veterans.”