Rep. Pressley & Neal, Senators Warren & Markey Address Disturbing Reports of Veteran Deaths at Massachusetts Soldiers’ Homes

April 3, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Congressman Richard E. Neal (MA-01) wrote to Ryan Lilly, Director of the Veterans Affairs (VA) New England Healthcare System, expressing their concern about the disturbing reports of the deaths of veteran residents at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (HSH) and the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home (CSH). The lawmakers urged Mr. Lilly to obtain more resources to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic at these facilities and asked that he work closely with the VA Boston Healthcare System and the Governor’s Office to appropriately hold Soldiers’ Home officials accountable and ensure that VA-operated long-term care facilities in Massachusetts do not see similar outbreaks.

“We remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the Commonwealth,” the lawmakers wrote. “Although we are encouraged by efforts underway to stop the spread at both facilities, the Soldiers’ Homes, like VA facilities, hospitals and health care providers across Massachusetts, continue to lack desperately needed supplies and guidance.”

Long-term care facilities—which house populations that are particularly vulnerable to this virus, such as the elderly and individuals with chronic health conditions—are of particular concern as we respond to the pandemic. VA long-term care facilities may be especially vulnerable as their patients are generally sicker and more likely to be male, both groups at particular risk from serious illness as a result of the virus.

In their letter, the lawmakers commended Governor Baker for appointing outside counsel to carry out an independent investigation of the circumstances that contributed to the coronavirus deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and for deploying a clinical response team and the National Guard to test all HSH residents and staff. The lawmakers also expressed concern about the potential for further spread of coronavirus at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home and VA-operated facilities in the Commonwealth.

“Given the high-risk resident populations at both facilities and the shortages of medical supplies across the Commonwealth, we are concerned that Chelsea Soldiers’ Home is on the path to a similar outbreak,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers urged Mr. Lilly to work diligently to obtain more resources so that the Soldiers’ Homes and VA health care facilities in Massachusetts have the resources to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19 patients and to further mitigate the risk of infection to veterans and staff.

The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.

Dear Director Lilly:

We write to express our concern about the disturbing reports of the deaths of veteran residents at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (HSH) and the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home (CSH), to urge you to obtain more resources to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID19) pandemic at these facilities, and to ask that you work closely with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System and the Governor’s Office to appropriately hold Soldiers’ Home officials accountable. Further, we ask that you take steps to ensure that other VA long-term care facilities in Massachusetts do not see similar outbreaks.

As we have seen with these two State Veterans homes, long-term care facilities are of particular concern as we respond to coronavirus. Long-term care facilities house populations that are particularly vulnerable to this virus, the elderly and individuals with chronic health conditions. As a result, these facilities have been the sources of some of the worst outbreaks of the virus, from Italy to Washington State. VA long-term care facilities may be especially vulnerable as their patients are generally sicker and more likely to be male, both groups at particular risk from serious illness as a result of the virus.

We welcome the April 1, 2020, announcement by Governor Baker that he has appointed outside counsel to carry out an independent investigation of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and the circumstances that contributed to the coronavirus deaths at that facility.  And we commend the Governor’s Office and the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Department of Public Health for deploying a clinical response team and the National Guard to test all HSH residents and staff, replacing the Superintendent pending the investigation, and establishing a hotline for family members of residents. We also understand that the VA Boston Healthcare System sent a team to the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home to assist with coronavirus response efforts, and that VA Boston accepted a number of CSH patients and is providing testing capabilities and working on a containment plan. Given the high-risk resident populations at both facilities and the shortages of medical supplies across the Commonwealth, we are concerned that Chelsea Soldiers’ Home is on the path to a similar outbreak.

We are also concerned about the potential for further spread of coronavirus at other VA facilities in the Commonwealth. The Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes represent only a subset of VA long-term care facilities in Massachusetts. VA community living centers (CLCs, or nursing homes) in Massachusetts could face similar concerns regarding coronavirus. We have also heard anecdotal reports from other VA facilities in Massachusetts that VA staff lack needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and are being directed to continue working even after exposure to coronavirus and are not effectively isolating potentially infected veterans.

We remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the Commonwealth. Although we are encouraged by efforts underway to stop the spread at both facilities, the Soldiers’ Homes, like VA facilities, hospitals and health care providers across Massachusetts, continue to lack desperately needed supplies and guidance. Therefore, we urge you to work diligently to obtain more resources so that the Soldiers’ Homes and VA health care facilities in Massachusetts have the resources to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19 patients and to further mitigate the risk of infection to veterans and staff. We ask that you provide a briefing to our staff on these efforts as soon as possible so that we may work with you to ensure our veterans are getting the care they need.

 

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