As an outbreak of the novel coronavirus swept through the state-run Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, killing at least six veterans, state and local officials were left in the dark for days and one family was unaware their loved one had passed away until seeing media reports, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said Tuesday.
“This situation has been horrific all around. Over the last 24 hours, I’ve had direct outreach of families that are frantically trying to reach their loved ones,” Morse told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston.
In total, 13 veterans have died at Soldiers’ Home in the last month — six of whom had tested positive for the coronavirus, with other test results still pending. Seven staff members at the home have also tested positive for the virus and at least another 25 residents have shown symptoms and are now awaiting results.
Morse explained the situation boiled down to a complete breakdown in communication between the Soldiers Home superintendent, Bennett Walsh, and the appropriate state and town departments. Walsh has since been suspended.
“It certainly raises a lot more questions than answers and I think the state needs to have a difficult conversation around means of communication between the superintendent, the facility and the appropriate state agency. So that is certainly a problem,” Morse said.
At an earlier press conference Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker said that his administration is committed to figuring out what went wrong at the facility.
Going forward, Morse said, his number one concern is saving as many lives at the home as possible.
“This had turned from one case, into now dozens of cases ... it seems to me there’s a clear lack of quarantine or isolation of the initial positive case. Where employees are reaching out to me as their mayor,” he said. “I had a call this afternoon, of an employee in tears scared to go on their 3PM shift because they didn’t think they would have adequate protection.”
But Morse remains hopeful that the state’s intervention will turn things around for the facility.
“It’s incumbent upon us to do everything we can to keep [the veterans] healthy, to keep them safe. And they frankly deserve better. And I think this is a wakeup call to leadership…. These are veterans and we need to remember that,” Morse said.