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Advocates Say A New Holyoke Soldiers' Home Needs More Beds Than State Proposes

The Holyoke Soldier's Home
Mass.Dept of Veterans Services

   A grassroots coalition is lobbying for more beds in a proposed replacement to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home – the long term care facility where at least 76 veterans died in a COVID-19 outbreak.

   With a spring deadline looming for the state to apply to the Veterans Administration for funds, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition – a group of veterans advocates and family members – is calling for the state to commit to building a new home that would have at least 280 private rooms and facilities to operate an adult daycare program.

    "Now is the time for action," said Paul Barabani, a former superintendent of the Soldiers' home, who retired in 2016 and is one of the founders of the coalition.

    "We call upon the state administration and the legislature to do the right thing to make things right at Holyoke," Barabani said during a virtual press conference this week.

      He  lamented the state’s decision in 2012 not to fund a VA-approved plan that would have upgraded the facility and done away with overcrowded shared rooms.

     "We can't let it happen again," said Barabani.

      The coalition disputes a recommendation from a design firm hired by the state to decrease the number of beds from the current total of 235 long-term beds to no more than 204.

      Barabani said the consultant’s report underestimates the demand for long term veteran care.

     " People want to be at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke and the  corridors of I-91 and the Turnpike allow for people to come to the Soldiers' Home at Holyoke," said Barabani.

      Even after the tragedy at the Soldiers’ Home, demand for admission there remains strong, according to Steven Connor, the director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services.

     "Within 4 months I had people asking 'when is it going to open up? Do you know when my dad might be able to get in there?'," said Connor.

      With an April 15th deadline to apply for federal funds to replace the current Soldiers’ Home, Jon Paradis, a core member of the coalition, said they’ve already started to make their case to state legislators and other decision makers.

     "We are hoping that with our outreach efforts and  our coalition members talking with their elected officials, ultimately we can encourage the state to truly look at the demand that we see in the community," said Paradis.

      The coronavirus outbreak last spring at the Soldiers’ Home led to pledges of reform from Gov. Charlie Baker.  A legislative oversight committee has held hearings that have focused on staffing and facilities issues.

       The superintendent at the time and the former medical director have been charged criminally. Both have pleaded not guilty.



The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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