The Baker administration on Thursday filed a $400 million bill to finance the construction of a new long-term care facility on the site of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, and attached some urgency to its request for the capital authorization.
According to the governor's office, the project is on an "expedited timeline" due to an April 15 deadline for the VA State Home Construction Grant Program, which would provide 65 percent matching federal funds. Baker's office said the bill must pass the Legislature by mid-March, and the project's design development phase must be completed by Aug. 1 to be eligible for this cycle of the federal grant program.
"Building a new, state-of-the-art long-term care facility at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke will ensure we can continue providing quality care for current veterans residing at the Home, as well as future residents," Baker said in a statement announcing his bill. "I look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature to pass this bill so that we can transform the future of the Home, meet the next major deadline in the capital project, and continue to secure funding from our federal partners at the Veterans’ Administration."
A March 2020 COVID-19 outbreak led to the deaths of at least 76 veteran residents at the Holyoke facility and lawmakers are continuing to consider possible reforms to address the facility's governance, oversight and management. Meantime, planning started in August to identify significant upgrades to the home.
In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the home was built before modern design standards for medical facilities, and the administration has taken steps to address "urgent capital and infection control needs." But she added that "it is clear that a major reconstruction of the campus is necessary for the safety, health and comfort of future generations of veterans and staff."
Last week, a bipartisan group of 82 state lawmakers told Baker they were concerned that the 192-bed facility that has been recommended will not be sufficient. The home's current capacity is 235, according to the office of Westfield Sen. John Velis.