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Chronology of a crisis at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

April 17, 2020

[caption id="attachment_10019" align="alignnone" width="300"]'PROTECT VETERANS': The buttons were all set for the Local 888 chapter's campaign at Holyoke Soldiers' Home. But tragedy hit first.'PROTECT VETERANS': The buttons were all set for the Local 888 chapter's campaign at Holyoke Soldiers' Home. But tragedy hit first.[/caption]

SEIU Local 888 actively called for changes to be made at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home months before the debacle that has left 52 veterans dead as of April 17 — at least 44 of them from the coronavirus. As the crisis unfolded, Local 888 played a key role — both in trying to fix the situation and prevent infections and in bringing the debacle before the public eye.

In the wake of the deaths at the Soldiers’ Home, Local 888 members are heartbroken. Members care deeply for the veterans they serve, and the disaster is a great tragedy for them, too. After all, they go there day after day to work and do their best for the vets.

Wed., March 11, 2020         A Local 888 meeting for members at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (HSH) was scheduled. The goal was to begin a campaign to protect veterans there. The HSH membership meeting was canceled due to concerns about maintaining proper social distancing amidst COVID-19 concerns.

Sat., March 14                      HSH halts visitations to the Soldiers’ Home.

Tues., March 17                   With members’ growing concerns about the COVID-19 crisis, Local 888 formally writes to Superintendent Bennett Walsh requesting that management provide needed safety equipment and disclose its plan for complying with CDC recommendations. There was no response from management. Staff had already identified at least one resident who had COVID-19 symptoms.

Wed., March 18                    A Local 888 member works the overnight shift at the home and wears personal protective equipment (PPE). He is verbally reprimanded by a supervisor.

Fri., March 20                        The worker receives a letter from Director of Nursing Vanessa Lauziere, accusing him of wearing personal protective equipment "without permission or need" and that doing so, "unnecessarily disrupted and alarmed staff." The union protected the worker.

Sat., March 21                      Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was notified a resident had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to published reports.

Sun., March 22                     Bennett Walsh informs all staff that a veteran had tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined in a private room. Union members report that the veteran was still free to walk around the unit, risking the spread of the infection.

Tues., March 24                   The reprimanded worker files a formal incident report protesting management's decision to discipline him for wearing personal protective equipment.

Wed., March 25                    Local 888 sends a second information request to Superintendent Walsh regarding COVID-19 plans. No response.

Wed., March 25                    Local 888 sends a request for an immediate meeting to Jeffrey Krok, labor relations counsel for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Thurs., March 26                  Local 888 sends a third information request and a demand to bargain to Superintendent Walsh regarding the COVID-19 plan for HSH. No response.

Thurs., March 26                  Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues sends a letter to Walsh, formally requesting Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to comply with CDC guidelines and provide SEIU Local 888 members with proper safety equipment.

Local 888 stated that the union, "is prepared to take any and all necessary measures to remedy our concerns, including going to higher levels of state government and making our case to veterans’ advocacy groups and the news media."

Fri., March 27                        Local 888 leaders and staff formulate a plan to escalate efforts to address the emerging crisis at the home: First to management, then to cabinet-level state officials, then to the media.

Sat., March 28                      A fourth information request is sent to Superintendent Walsh regarding COVID-19 plans. No response.

Sat., March 28                      Local 888 union organizer Cory Bombredi reports that HSH members are telling him that the number of deaths and infections are increasing, and management is not responding to urgent appeals for help.

Sat., March 28                      9:00 p.m. — President Brenda Rodrigues finally reaches Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who had not been informed about the extent of the problems at HSH. Secretary Sudders said that she only knew of one death and one patient diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus.

Mon., March 30                    3:00 p.m. — President Brenda Rodrigues has a conversation with Sudders' health and human services staff team.

4:30 p.m.  — Bennett Walsh put on administrative leave.

Tues., March 30                   Later, Rodrigues has a follow-up call with the staff at health and human services.

Wed., April 1                         Gov. Charlie Baker announces independent investigation into Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.