Major Gen. Gary W. Keefe, Lt. Col. Mark A. Bigda join Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Board of Trustees

By STEPHANIE BARRY | masslive.com | Published: November 4, 2020

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Gov. Charlie Baker has appointed three new trustees to the Holyoke Soldiers' Home since July, according to an announcement from state officials.

The two newest members are Major Gen. Gary W. Keefe, adjutant general for the Massachusetts National Guard, and Lt. Col. Mark A. Bigda, a physician and member of the Air National Guard. Bigda is a flight surgeon for the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.

The two join Brig. Gen Sean T. Collins, a nurse practitioner serving with the Air National Guard Assistant to the Deputy Surgeon General, who was appointed to the board by Baker in July.

In the wake of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the state-run nursing home for veterans, Baker has vowed a number of reforms including bolstering its Board of Trustees with members who have medical backgrounds.

“I am pleased to appoint these three distinguished military and community leaders to the Board of Trustees for the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke,” Baker said in a statement. “As the home continues to protect and care for the veteran residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the appointment of these three trustees to the board will bring expertise that will benefit residents of the home, help steer its leadership and fortify its clinical expertise.”

Keefe will serve a seven-year term, replacing former Trustee Christopher Dupont, whose term ended in July. Bigda will serve until July 2022, serving the remainder of former Trustee Cesar Lopez’s term following his resignation in September. Collins will serve until July 2024, serving the remainder of former Trustee Richard Girard’s term following his resignation in June.

“One of the most important functions of the Board is the representation of the local and Massachusetts veteran community, and Major General Keefe, Lt. Colonel Bigda, and Brigadier General Collins come with this strong perspective and knowledge,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are proud to appoint them to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, and welcome their contributions.”

At least 76 veterans died from the coronavirus after the disease gripped the facility beginning in March. Dozens more residents and staff were sickened by COVID-19.

Its former leaders were subject to sweeping rebukes from state officials over the death toll and the response to the outbreak. Onetime Superintendent Bennett Walsh and his former top medical advisor, Dr. David Clinton, were indicted by a grand jury on criminal neglect charges.

Walsh and Clinton are set to be arraigned Nov. 5 in Hampden Superior Court.

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