All surviving Holyoke Soldiers' Home veterans diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered, state officials say
By GREG SAULMON | The Republican, Springfield, Mass. | Published: June 19, 2020
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HOLYOKE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — At the peak of the coronavirus crisis at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, scores of the state-run facility’s residents tested positive for the disease — and scores were dying.
On Thursday, state officials announced a hopeful milestone in the march out of the darkness: all of the surviving veterans diagnosed with COVID-19 have been declared “clinically recovered.”
The announcement came after all residents and staff were retested.
Of the 210 veterans living at the home when the outbreak began in March, about three-quarters contracted the respiratory illness that has killed nearly 120,000 Americans. The outbreak has been linked to the deaths of 76 veterans; another 84 who tested positive have recovered, state officials said.
Among them was John J. MacKay, who survived the Burma Theater during World War II — and then beat COVID-19 on the way to his 100th birthday in May. He was one of the veterans who was able to check-in with family members, outdoors and at opposite ends of a long table, as in-person visits resumed this week.
No new deaths linked to the disease have been reported at the facility since May 26. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, state officials said two residents recovered but died of other causes.
The virus also swept through the facility’s staff, infecting dozens of employees. The latest round of retesting turned up only two staff cases. No employee deaths were reported over the course of the outbreak.
Nearly 30 veterans remain at Holyoke Medical Center, where they were taken in April in an effort to separate them from fellow residents who tested positive.
“The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home has been intently focused on following infection control procedures and maintaining best practices for the safety of veteran residents and staff, and to support the recovery of veterans as the health status of many stabilizes,” said Brooke Karanovich, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “All veteran residents’ health is being monitored and retesting is being conducted for veterans both on- and off-site as clinically appropriate. "
The outbreak’s fallout is still in motion, with Gov. Charlie Baker saying over the past week that a report from an independent investigation he ordered is on the horizon. Investigations by the offices of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling are also pending.
The state placed Superintendent Bennett Walsh, appointed to the post by Baker in 2016, on paid leave as the first wave of deaths came to light at the end of March. Walsh has denied any wrongdoing or mismanagement, and has said claims that he failed to keep higher-ranking state officials abreast of the crisis are false.
On March 30 the state established a clinical team headed by Lisa Colombo, executive vice chancellor for Commonwealth Medicine and a former hospital administrator, in an attempt to stabilize the situation. Val Liptak, a registered nurse and CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, took over Walsh’s duties.
A family hotline is available at 413-552-4764. The hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Families can also request updates via email at CommunicationsMailbox-HLY@Mass.gov. The home can only share medical information about a resident with the authorized health care proxy on file.
Outdoor visits are now offered Tuesday through Saturday, with about 20 slots available each day. The facility will offer a special Father’s Day visitation on Sunday, June 21. Visits can be scheduled through the family hotline.