Former superintendent of Holyoke Soldiers’ Home testifies on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The former superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Paul Barabani served as superintendent from 2011 until 2016, when he resigned because he felt the state wasn’t addressing critical needs at the home.

He told Congress he wished the U.S Department of Veterans’ Affairs had done a better job of helping him influence the state to provide funding for proper staffing and renovations at the home.

“I often ask, what if they had listened to my request for additional staff and the creation of individual rooms in the renovation?” Barabani said. “How many of these deaths may have been prevented if they had listened and acted?”

He said the VA and state-run homes share an obligation to provide quality veteran care.

“Through a professional partnership and collaboration we have a unique opportunity to vastly improve the quality of veteran care for future generations, not only in my home state but throughout our great nation,” Barabani said.

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U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, sits on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, which is examining the oversight of state veterans’ homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neal said the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home needs to maintain the current number of beds and fight efforts to downsize, improved staffing, and crucial physical renovation. He also called for the creation of an adult day health care facility on the premises. He added western Massachusetts also needs to have a voice in discussions on the future of the home going forward.

"These conversations can't just occur in Boston," Neal said.

Seventy-six veterans living at the home died of COVID-19 and many others were sickened.

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An independent investigation into the outbreak, commissioned by Gov. Charlie Baker, placed heavy blame on ousted superintendent Bennett Walsh and his leadership team.

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