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As State Calls For Independent Probe, More Veterans Die At Holyoke Soldiers' Home

A cleaning crew suited up with protective gear enters the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke last month. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A cleaning crew suited up with protective gear enters the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke last month. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Another two veteran residents at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke died Wednesday, bringing the total number of deceased to 15, state health officials said.

Both of the residents at the long-term health care facility for veterans tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said in a statement. 

"While every life lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy, these veterans lived long, full lives, and their service to our community will never be forgotten," the statement said, adding, "We cannot forget that these nursing and assisted living facilities are providing care to a vulnerable population of older residents, many of whom have underlying illnesses."

The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke has been embroiled in controversy following the deaths, with Gov. Charlie Baker hiring an attorney to launch an independent investigation into the deaths and the mayor of Holyoke, Alex Morse, claiming that city and state officials were not properly notified as the outbreak deepened with at least eight veterans died between Wednesday and Sunday last week.

In remarks delivered Wednesday in Worcester, the Republican governor said the independent investigator will examine "what the state of play" was at Holyoke. He then praised Val Liptak, CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, who took over operations at the Soldiers' Home after its superintendent, Bennett Walsh, was placed on administrative paid leave following news of the deaths.

Meanwhile, the state-run health care facility's sister residence, Soldiers' Home in Chelsea, announced its first death related to COVID-19 on Wednesday morning. By the afternoon, officials said another person at the Chelsea home had died. Both tested positive for the coronavirus.

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