Lawmakers push for Chelsea Soldiers’ Home probe

Warren, Markey, Pressley say COVID-19 deaths, cases warrant investigation

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

CITING THE DEATHS of 31 veterans there, Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley on Friday called for an independent investigation into the coronavirus outbreak at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, one of two long-term care homes that the state runs for veterans.

“Given that 31 veteran residents of the Home have died from COVID-19 and an independent investigation of the outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (HSH) produced useful findings and recommendations, we believe a similar, independent and thorough inquiry at CSH would help save veterans’ lives, prevent further infections, and ensure a healthier and safer care environment for both residents and staff,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker.

The lawmakers said that federal veteran medical centers in Boston and Bedford have accepted at least 40 Chelsea Soldiers’ Home veteran residents for care since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And they called for an investigation that’s as rigorous as the one Baker ordered into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

“Recent public reporting has cast doubt on whether the COVID-19 response at the Home adequately protected veterans, and we understand that at least 60 percent of all veteran residents at the Home have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies,” the lawmakers wrote. “Altogether, these facts and circumstances suggest that a serious outbreak occurred at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home.”

Baker this week named Cheryl Poppe, the superintendent of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, as the interim state secretary of veterans’ services, replacing Francisco Urena, who resigned in advance of the release of a study examining mistakes and management problems at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

Group homes and long-term care residences, including nursing homes, have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Attorney General Maura Healey, in addition to investigating the Holyoke home, is also investigating the spread of COVID-19 at a Littleton assisted living facility where at least a third of the residents at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley contracted the virus.

The Baker administration responded by saying it plans to hire an infection control specialist at the Chelsea home.

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“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on long term care facilities, including Soldiers’ Homes, here and across the country and the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home has comprehensively prepared for and aggressively responded to COVID-19,” said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Brooke Karanovich. “To ensure the proper infection controls remain in place at the facility through the fall when a resurgence in possible, the administration will hire an infection control specialist to review protocol at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home. The administration has been updating the state and federal delegations weekly since April on both Soldiers’ Homes and will address the members’ questions directly.”

Administration officials also noted that there have been more than 23,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities in Massachusetts, with 304 nursing homes having clusters of 10 or more positive cases.