While U.S. nursing homes have been hard hit by the coronavirus, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home disaster remains one of the worst cases in the nation. The situation has stabilized now that there are fewer patients and new staff, along with National Guard members, to handle the high number of infected patients.
“Things are getting better; there’s been a lot of progress,” said Kwesi Ablordeppey, Local 888 chapter president. “But sometimes I feel that, I don’t know how we are going to live through this.”
At least 84 Soldiers’ Home employees, out of more than 300, have tested positive for the coronavirus. “It’s like the whole place is infected,” said Ablordeppey, who so far has avoided getting the virus.
The Baker administration has removed the facility’s superintendent, Bennett Walsh, as multiple investigations look into the Soldiers’ Home disaster. Several other members of Walsh’s management team have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Under interim leadership, the overall situation has improved significantly. However, some of that is simply due to having fewer patients. At the start of the pandemic, the facility had over 200 residents.
The state’s department of health and human services said that, as of May 26, 92 residents have died since the pandemic hit, with 76 of them testing positive for the coronavirus.
Of the remaining 132 Holyoke residents, 29 are at a hospital, Holyoke Medical Center.
As reported by WBUR, a state official told a meeting of the home’s trustees that Holyoke will operate with fewer residents and new safety protocols in the future. About $2 million in improvements is being spent on renovating part of the hospital to create more-private rooms.
Ablordeppey said it looks like the facility will house 160 to 170 residents.
A recent national report on veterans’ homes spotlighted the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Among the issues noted: The facility and the state had failed to address the problems of understaffing and harsh working conditions that Local 888 leaders and members had warned about — for years — before the COVID-19 crisis hit (https://www.propublica.org/article/superintendent-bragged-about-va-review-of-short-staffed-soldiers-home-two-months-later-73-veterans-are-dead).
For more on the facility, see http://www.seiu888.org/2020/04/17/members-seek-to-protect-vets/.