Holyoke

‘Better days are ahead': Groundbreaking held for new $482M Holyoke Veterans' Home

The project is estimated to take five years to complete and will cost $482 million

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Monday for the new Holyoke Veterans' Home, which will replace the existing long-term care facility built over seven decades ago.

Gov. Maura Healey, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Congressman Richard Neal, Secretary of Veterans Services Jon Santiago and local state and city officials attended the event.

STAY IN THE KNOW

icon

Watch NBC10 Boston news for free, 24/7, wherever you are.

icon

Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.

The $482 million facility will house 234 long-term care beds for the state's medically vulnerable veteran population once it is completed in the summer of 2028. The new care facility will feature a "small house model," as well as many amenities such as gardens, a hair salon, dining and social areas and an event pavilion outside.

Residents will also have access to on-site physical therapy and dental care.

The replacement facility will have attributes of sustainable design, like geothermal heating and cooling and high efficiency windows.

"To all of our veterans, most importantly, this day is about you. Each and every one of you who has served, it is about you," Healey said, adding that the renewal of the Holyoke Veterans' Home "is a labor of love and respect for our administration."

Payette

The home was the site of one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in a long-term care facility nationwide in 2020. Seventy-six residents died of COVID that spring, and a 77th died of the virus the following December.

Several officials at Monday's ceremony acknowledged the lost lives and the importance of making sure the lessons learned in 2020 will endure.

"You can't ignore the tragedy that happened here," Neal said.

"Obviously, it's a very joyful but somber occasion," added state Sen. John Velis, who represents the Holyoke area. "It's a tough conversation to have to talk about... We lost veterans, but we lost so many great human beings, and I'll never forget that."

Healey said she met with the families of some of those who died at the home prior to Monday's ceremony.

"It was an emotional meeting," she said. "It's a bittersweet day for so many. It's a groundbreaking ceremony, it's celebratory, and it's also really hard for people to have to relive their story, retell their story."

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Veterans' Home was ultimately found to be connected to operational and governance shortcomings at the state-run facility. An independent report found an "abject failure of leadership" at the home, starting with its superintendent.

Mark Pearlstein, a former first assistant U.S. attorney who former Gov. Charlie Baker tapped to lead the investigation in 2020, wrote that the "worst decision" made at the home in response to the outbreak was combining two locked dementia care units that housed some patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and others who were negative, because of a "looming staff shortage."

"I think the thing the report makes absolutely clear to all of us is that the Department of Veterans' Services, our administration, did not do the job that we should have done in overseeing [Superintendent] Bennett Walsh and the soldiers' home," Baker said at the time.

Since then, state officials have overturned the leadership running the state's veterans homes and the Legislature passed an oversight reform bill that included a requirement that the top official at each state veterans' home be a licensed nursing home administrator.

The Department of Veterans' Services that Santiago leads became a Cabinet-level executive office in March under the 2022 law, and the legislation also required that the top official at each veterans' home be a licensed nursing home administrator, a qualification that the head of the Holyoke facility reportedly lacked during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We are committed to seeing that Massachusetts is second to no one when it comes to veterans services, and to do so with actions and not just words," Santiago said at Monday's ceremony. "I can assure you that better days are ahead at Holyoke, because we all know what happens when veterans' services are not prioritized."

"For those of you who may have lost a loved one at Holyoke, know that we stand with you. We see you, we hear you, and we honor that loss today. Although we can't change the past, we can shift the future, and that's what today is about."

State House News Service contributed to this report.

Contact Us