A campaign has been launched to persuade Massachusetts state officials to fund major upgrades to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where 76 residents have died from COVID-19
The effort is being led by Paul Barabani, a former superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home.
He retired in 2016, frustrated he said by the state’s refusal to provide funds to hire more staff.
Joining Barabani in the campaign to apply public pressure to get more state funding for the home are veterans’ advocates and the families of several residents.
WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with Barabani.
What we're advocating for is the state to provide the funding to take the corrective actions that were identified, you know, back in 2010, regarding the conditions at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. And 2010, were cited by the Department of Veterans Administration, or Veterans Affairs, for the lack of appropriate room-size and space for veterans within the home. When I arrived there in 2011, we did an analysis and determined that the room size was the greatest threat for the safety of the veterans in the home. And, the first sub-item of our analysis was infection control because the size of the rooms have a direct impact on the spread of infections. Unfortunately, I think the combination of the, the size of the room and the rapid spread of the Coronavirus infection were significantly- Contributed to the situation that existed, what the results that were obtained. That in combination with the lack of appropriate staffing is just a recipe for disaster. And so we're looking to have the state fund the addition, the plan that we submitted and was approved by the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2013. However, it didn't go forward because of a lack of matching funds from the state. That called for the construction of a complete new wing on the soldiers home that would have been a five story addition that would have held 420 private rooms, in compliance with the current VA small house concept. In addition, it would have modified and renovated the current building, so that it would be a combination of one and two person rooms, each with their own private bath. That would eliminate the current situation where people actually have to get out of their, you know, bed, and walk down the hall and go to a, you know, community bathroom, which again are factors which contribute to the spread of the infection. So, this plan, which again was approved by the VA, remains on their list, but just that it hasn't been- Received a certification of matching funds from the state. And so, this plan has languished since 2013. Correct. And the frustrating thing for me, personally, and I believe- You know, anybody, any veteran who, or any person who could look at the situation objectively, not just veterans, but they're the ones who are impacted, is that we had our plan together in 2013. We were told by the state government that they were going to hold our plan and at the same time create a plan for Chelsea, because at that time, nobody had taken the initiative to address the situation at Chelsea, and that both homes would be part of a bonding bill that would bring both homes up to standards. In 2017, the state committed to 199 million to build a new Chelsea, but did nothing to address, you know, long standing problems that existed at Holyoke. When I heard the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, you know, make a statement at the last trustees meeting, questioning the legitimate viable- Saying that the building is outlasted its legitimate viability. I can't sit back any longer, and his reference information was a report on Channel Five news. Well, we have assets, we have capability, we have more knowledge, on what's going on there. And they seem, in fact, I sent him a letter and he seems unwilling to accept any of the input that we have for him. But it does provide a clear path forward that is achievable in a very short time. Who's involved in this effort with you, Paul? Well, there's a number of people. Now, John Paradis, who was our Deputy Superintendent during our time, who's incredibly dedicated and capable person, Air Force veteran. The Director of Nursing, who is that the Soldiers' Home at the time has also come on board, Pam Quirk. But if you go to the website, you'll see the other members of the committee. We have three Veteran Service agents. Jesus Pereira from Holyoke, Eric Segundo from Ludlow, Steve Connor- North Hampton, Rich, Rich Connor, who is a member of the DA-V, who was writing veteran claims at the soldiers home in Holyoke and helping veterans. We also have family members- And in addition to this website, what are your plans? How do you intend to get your message out? Well, on the website, you know, we provided links that they could find out- Who their state rep. and senators are. We ask them to make phone calls, we ask them to write letters, do some information on those standouts, some placards, to let people know of the effort that we're doing. So yeah, any way that we can and also, you know- through the media. So yeah, we're going to employ the media as best we can, to help get the word out so that people can can help us in this effort.