Federal funds sought for Holyoke Soldiers’ Home renovations
Same firm that never-funded 2012 plan to try again
THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION has hired a company to begin an “expedited” process to renovate the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
The exact timing of construction remains uncertain, but the administration’s goal is to apply to the US Department of Veterans Affairs by an April 15, 2021, deadline for a federal construction grant. The timing of the project will depend on funding and on the design selected during the current planning process.
The problems at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home became apparent during an outbreak of COVID-19 this spring in which 76 veterans died.
“We have a unique opportunity to shift the models of long-term care that we offer to our veterans, following the pandemic that has shined a spotlight on necessary and urgent infection control needs,” said Acting Veterans’ Services Secretary Cheryl Lussier Poppe in a statement. “We look forward to the continued progress that will be made at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, ensuring our most vulnerable demographic of veterans are cared for in the safest, and most appropriate environment.”
According to a project overview released by the state, the needs assessment will look at the demographics, preferences, and needs of current and future veterans to figure out what clinical supports and services are required. Payette will evaluate all options, including renovating existing buildings and building new ones. It will then make a recommendation that includes cost estimates and a project schedule.
This fall, a designer will be selected who will refine and confirm the project scope, budget, and timeline.
The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was built in 1952 and most of its rooms are too small and crowded to meet federal standards. An audit by the VA in January 2020 found that 85 residents out of 234 living there at the time were in rooms that were too small. Many double rooms, which should have been 245 square feet, were between 100 and 210 square feet. One room had three occupants in just 130 square feet.
In 2012, Soldiers’ Home officials developed a major renovation plan, but the state never funded it. That plan would have added a new wing with 120 private rooms and renovated the existing structure to have private or semi-private rooms configured into “neighborhoods.”
Since the outbreak, a coalition of advocates – including former superintendent Paul Barabani who oversaw the development of the 2012 plan – have been pushing for the renovation to go forward. Barabani, testifying before a congressional subcommittee recently, suggested that the renovation, if it had happened, could have helped stop the spread of COVID-19. “The coalition’s belief is the lack of sufficient staff and overcrowded rooms were root causes of the rapid spread of the virus,” Barabani said.According to a project overview from the Executive Office of Administration and Finance released Monday, the 2012 plan “provides helpful ideas but is not sufficient for moving forward.” State officials wrote that the 2012 plan is outdated in that it does not reflect current VA and building code requirements, lacks current cost estimates, and does not reflect lessons about infection control learned from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Separately, the state has already been moving forward with a $6 million “refresh” project of the existing facility at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in order to improve infection control through things like installing air purification units.