Holyoke Soldiers’ Home medical director resigns

More leadership changes come amid outbreak

THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, site of one of the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, has given his notice and plans to resign from the position as soon as a replacement can be found.

Interim administrator Val Liptak told the Soldiers’ Home’s Board of Trustees Tuesday night that David Clinton will remain on the medical staff part-time.

Clinton had been drawing a $116,680 annual salary for working a part-time job as the home’s medical director, according to state payroll records. He was working there 20 hours a week, according to the board of trustees chairman, Kevin Jourdain.

Superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave in late March as the extent of the outbreak at the home became clear, and the state brought in administrator Val Liptak and an emergency clinical team to stabilize the home.

Multiple outside investigations into what happened at the facility are now underway, including probes by US Attorney Andrew Lelling, Attorney General Maura Healey, and the state inspector general in additional to an investigation ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker.

According to board meeting minutes from March 10, Walsh told the board that Clinton had reviewed the home’s processes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Clinton’s departure is only part of a major shakeup in the Soldiers’ Home leadership. Walsh’s future at the home is uncertain. The board of trustees planned to hold a hearing last month to consider his termination, but Walsh challenged their process in court, and litigation is ongoing.

The state is also advertising open positions for a deputy superintendent and a director of plant operations.

The former deputy superintendent started work during the pandemic but then quickly resigned.

Liptak said state officials are interviewing people now to find an interim medical director. An interim director of plant operations is already in place.

Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Dan Tsai said state officials could consider hiring people on an interim basis for all of these roles as they decide long-term what skill sets and capabilities they want each administrator to have.

WBUR recently reported that the Legislature in 2016 created a new position — executive director of veterans’ homes and housing – in order to put someone in charge of the two state-run veterans’ homes who had health care management experience. But Secretary of Veteran Services Francisco Urena never filled that position.

At Tuesday’s meeting, trustee Isaac Mass questioned Liptak about whether the deputy superintendent would need to have a nursing home administrator license. Liptak said that was “preferred” but not required, and said she was more concerned with clinical expertise and management experience.

Liptak said state officials have to “look at the entire executive team.” She said it might make sense to hire an interim team until the permanent superintendent is in place.

As of Tuesday, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home reported 74 residents who died and tested positive for COVID-19. Another 87 veterans and 83 staff had tested positive.

The home had 210 residents before the outbreak. It now has 104 residents in the home. Another 31 veterans are in a dedicated skilled nursing unit at Holyoke Medical Center, while one resident is receiving acute care offsite.

Liptak and Tsai said before the residents can be returned, the home will undergo a renovation project estimated to cost $2 million. Old wardrobes, wallpaper and curtains that do not meet infection control standards will be replaced.

State officials are also looking at how to ensure there is more space between residents, who had been living in crowded rooms. “You can’t take care of patients safely with beds 24 inches apart,” Liptak said. “There were too many residents in one room.” With new spacing guidelines, Liptak said the home would be able to house 160 to 170 residents going forward.

Tsai said home administrators are starting to “come out of the clinical crisis mode” and “find our way toward a path to stability.”

Of 346 staff members, 301 are currently working. Two units are operating for patients without COVID-19 and four are operating for COVID-19-positive patients. Recreational activities are starting up again for veterans, with social distancing precautions in place.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Liptak said the National Guard is expected to remain on site for another four to six weeks. The state’s clinical consulting team will remain for three months.