Plans shelved eight years ago to remodel or completely replace the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home where 76 veterans have died in the coronavirus pandemic could be the answer to staving off future outbreaks, according to a new report.
“The devastating impact of Covid-19 underscored the functional obsolescence of the facility and the enhanced need to support critical infection control protocols and requirements,” according to a report released on Veterans Day. “While the Commonwealth has completed and continues to deploy short term mitigation strategies, a long-term permanent solution is necessary.”
The state should consider substantial renovations or total replacement of the 247-bed facility, the 79-page assessment finds. The home’s current configuration with multi-occupancy bedrooms and shared toilets does not meet US Department of Veterans Affairs or Centers for Medicare & Medicaid standards.
The report, led by architectural firm Payette — recommends renovating the 68-year-old facility, improving layout, updating HVAC systems and building a new addition of 180 to 205 single rooms with private bathrooms, which it says would be “important tools to combat COVID and other infectious diseases.”
The facility should discontinue costly outpatient services and providing housing for veterans with no medical needs, the report said.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he thinks the improvements will “ensure that the facility remains safe and able to support the Commonwealth’s veterans as they age,”
The report comes after 12 weeks of meetings with stakeholders and was spurred by renewed calls for improvements after the facility became an early epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts.
Veterans’ Secretary Cheryl Lussier Poppe called the report a “significant milestone” in a renovation project that has dragged on for years.
The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was initially flagged for renovation in 2012 — even earning matching fund approval from the VA — but no progress would be made until nearly 2,000 friends, family members and advocates of veterans who sickened or died from COVID-19 inside the facility this year circulated a petition demanding changes be made.
Meanwhile, the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home earned matching funds and approval for a $199 million renovation project in 2017. Construction started the next year.