Supporters Say Holyoke Soldiers' Home – Decimated By COVID-19 – Needs Major Renovations
A group calling for major renovations to the Holyoke Soldiers' Home held its first of several planned demonstrations Tuesday afternoon. Seventy-six veterans living at the state-run facility who tested positive for COVID-19 have died in recent months.
The group said the federal government agreed years ago to fund 65% of the more than $100 million project, but the state hasn't funded its share.
Sheryl Blais says her father, Robert, died from the coronavirus at the Soldiers' Home in March. She stood curbside along a busy street, holding a sign showing her support for renovations. Blais said a more spacious facility could have helped control the outbreak.
"They had no chance in there," Blais said. "I believe...it's an updated facility, things would be a lot different."
John Hurley of Chicopee, a Vietnam veteran from the Marine Corps awarded the Purple Heart, agreed with Blais. He said more single rooms in a new facility could have made a difference during the outbreak.
"I was doing some volunteer work up at the Soldiers' Home for a while, and you could tell maybe if they had this new building, previous to this virus, it may have prevented some deaths up there," Hurley said.
State Senator John Velis of Westfield, himself a veteran and major in the Army Reserve, joined the demonstrators. He said the state needs to fund the project, despite a grim budget picture.
"We are in bad shape financially, but at the end of the day, the preservation of human life is what's absolutely paramount," Velis said.
As of Tuesday evening, more than 1,400 people had signed an online petition calling on the Baker Administration to fund the renovations at the Holyoke facility.
There are several ongoing investigations into the COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers' Home.
The outbreak lasted weeks and led to the deaths of more than a quarter of the facility's residents. The state last week said all veterans at the Soldiers' Home who previously tested positive have "clinically recovered" from the disease.