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Massachusetts Senate Passes Funding Bill For New Holyoke Soldiers' Home

The Holyoke Soldiers' Home in March 2020.
Jesse Costa
The Holyoke Soldiers' Home in March 2020.

The Massachusetts Senate has unanimously passed its version of a funding bill for a new Holyoke Soldiers' Home. It carries a higher price tag than the bill the House recently passed.

Both bills include $400 million for a new state-run facility for veterans in Holyoke. But the Senate also approved an additional $200 million for funding authorizations to meet veterans’ needs across the state.

Senator John Velis of Westfield, who also represents Holyoke, told his colleagues the aging facility played a role in a deadly COVID-19 outbreak last year, when 76 veterans died while testing positive.

“Without the appropriate spacing and infection control, without private rooms, the virus ran rampant throughout the home,” Velis said in his speech to lawmakers. “There’s also no doubt that the home structure has been outdated long before last spring.”

Several senators hailed the importance of a rebuild for the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

One senator suggested additional reforms are coming to the soldiers' home system, which has been probed by lawmakers for months.

During introductory remarks on Thursday, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues said he looked forward to working with Sen. Michael Rush in the near future on a reform bill.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen said it was sad that it took a tragedy to force legislative action, and noted 60 residents died in a smaller nursing home in her district. But Jehlen said senators should take the opportunity to address key needs.

With differences between the two versions of a bill, a committee of House and Senate members will now work to create compromise legislation.

This story includes reporting from Michael P. Norton of State House News Service.

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