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Warren, Markey and Pressley Call For Investigation Of Chelsea Soldiers' Home COVID-19 Outbreak

A resident enters the headquarters of the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A resident enters the headquarters of the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Rep. Ayanna Pressley are calling for an independent investigation into the COVD-19 outbreak at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, where 31 veteran residents have died.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, the lawmakers called for a probe similar to that conducted after the outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, where 76 residents died from the virus.

That report, released earlier this week, found that the Holyoke home's superintendent, Bennett Walsh, and his staff made "substantial errors" that "likely contributed to the death toll during the outbreak.”

The lawmakers said a similar independent probe of the actions of leaders and staff at Chelsea Soldiers’ Home would “help save veterans' lives, prevent further infections, and ensure a healthier and safer care environment for both residents and staff.”

The letter noted that in addition to the 31 deaths at the Chelsea home, 40 residents have been moved to other VA medical centers in Boston and Bedford since the pandemic began.

“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% of all veteran residents at the home have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies,” the letter said. “Altogether, these facts and circumstances suggest that a serious outbreak occurred at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home.”

The lawmakers said the inquiry, like the one of the Holyoke facility, should examine three questions: what caused and contributed to the COVID-19 outbreak there; whether the facility’s leaders complied with requirements to provide timely and accurate counts of the infected patients and staff, and of deaths from COVID-19; and what if anything can be done in the future to prevent or reduce the likelihood of a similar outbreak.

In response, the Baker administration said it has plans to hire an infection control specialist at the Chelsea home.

"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."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the U.S. Justice Department and the state inspector general all have pending investigations into the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.

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Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

This article was originally published on June 26, 2020.

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Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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