A federal investigation has been opened into Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, where nearly 30 residents who tested positive for coronavirus have died.
CNN has previously reported that, according to staff and union accounts, the home has been dogged by systemic issues for years that could have contributed to an outbreak at the home.
The US attorney’s office in Massachusetts and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will conduct the investigation. The US attorney’s office said in a statement that it will investigate “whether the Soldiers’ Home violated the rights of residents by failing to provide them adequate medical care generally, and during, the coronavirus pandemic.”
According to the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), which runs the facility, as of April 9, 69 residents and 68 staff had tested positive for coronavirus. Since March, 32 residents of the home have died with 28 of those testing positive for Covid-19.
Staff at Soldiers’ Home told CNN they were not provided with proper personal protective equipment, struggled with chronic understaffing, and said that veterans who had tested positive for Covid-19 were housed in tight quarters with other veterans.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the veterans who passed away,” said Eric Dreiband, an assistant attorney general for civil rights, in the statement. “We owe it to the veterans, their families, and the public to investigate the facts, determine what happened, ensure compliance with the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, and protect those veterans who continue to reside at the Soldiers’ Home.”
‘Something went terribly wrong’
Cory Bombredi, an internal organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 888, which represents 270 members of the home’s staff, expressed optimism about the new investigation.
“We find the news promising and welcome additional investigations into the events that led to the deaths of our veterans and the spread of Covid-19 to our members,” Bombredi told CNN. “These veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice to their country. I believe what has happened in Holyoke has raised the alarm for every health care facility in US, I believe they have saved countless lives. These men are true heroes.”
In response to the new investigation, EOHHS told CNN in a statement in part that an on-site team has “assertively responded to the emergency situation and are continually making necessary changes on the ground to protect resident safety.”
“It is imperative that the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home provide a safe environment for the veteran residents, and the dedicated staff who serve them,” the statement reads in part.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker previously announced that an independent investigation would take place. Earlier this week, Massachusetts’ attorney general announced her own investigation into the deaths and alleged wrongdoing at the facility. The superintendent for the home was placed on administrative leave on March 30. In response to the crisis, the National Guard is now providing support at the home.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday that the state is investigating reports that the home was late in reporting Covid-19 fatalities to the state.
“We’ve got to get a handle on this,” Healy said. “Obviously, something went terribly wrong. I am not going to prejudge anything. We’ll go where the facts take us. We have to for the sake of these families and honor the men who served our country. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
CNN’s Melanie Schuman contributed to this report.