In Holyoke, Mass., ground broken for a new state veterans home
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday for a new Holyoke Soldiers' Home. The current facility was the site of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 where nearly 80 veterans died.
The tragedy led to a push for a new state-run home for veterans to replace the current one, which opened in 1952. Advocates for the new facility said the old building no longer meets the needs of its residents.
Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey told the gathering, including state and federal officials and families of veterans, the new facility will be something everyone in the state can be proud of.
"We want to be clear that our investment in the home symbolizes a next level of care and commitment to veterans and...their families all across the state," Healey said.
Speaking to reporters after the groundbreaking ceremony, Healey said she had an emotional meeting earlier in the day with family members who lost loved ones during the outbreak. She said their advocacy helped to not only push for the new building, but other changes.
The state’s veterans homes in Holyoke and Chelsea now have a new governance structure, and a new cabinet level veterans’ secretary position was also created.
The governor also looked back on the failures by former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home administrators in how they handled the outbreak, which came to light during investigations.
"For all of us, it was always about the veterans, it was always about what was a failure in terms of treating people with the kind of dignity and respect that they so deserved, particularly, of course, people who served our country so honorably," Healey said.
As state attorney general, Healey brought charges against the former superintendent, Bennett Walsh and former medical director David Clinton, alleging criminal neglect. A court judge in 2021 dismissed the cases. But in April 2023, the state Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the charges and the criminal case is pending.
The new Holyoke Soldiers' Home will cost $482 million, with federal grants covering the majority of the price tag with the state paying for the rest. The facility, which will accommodate 234 veterans is slated for completion in 2028 and will be located on the same campus as the current building.