25 Investigates: Workers at Holyoke veterans home who contract virus must use sick time while they recover

HOLYOKE, Mass. — 25 Investigates has learned that workers at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who contract coronavirus have to use their own sick time while they recover. Some of the workers and their union say that’s not fair given the missteps that happened as the crisis unfolded.

“We didn’t ask for this,” said Carmen Rivera, C.N.A. Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

Rivera has been a certified nurses’ aid at the veterans’ home for nearly 25 years. She believes mismanagement led to the crisis that’s unfolded at the home where since March, 35 residents have died as of Friday and 73 staff members tested positive for coronavirus, including Rivera.

As of Friday night, 76 veteran residents had tested positive for the virus, while 99 others tested negative; 17 residents’ test results are pending.

“I feel left alone. I feel a little disappointed, I do. I feel like I’m.... disposable...” said Rivera.

Disposable, she says, because she’s been too sick to work for three weeks and claims so far she’s only received half of a typical paycheck.

“I called a couple of times, left messages to the human resources, and I have gotten no answer,” said Rivera.

What pay she has gotten, she says is coming out of her sick time. 25 Investigates heard from several workers who say they shouldn’t have to lose sick time because much of what happened in Holyoke could have been prevented.

When the outbreak came to light in March, the state suspended administrator Bennet Walsh, and now there are three investigations looking into what went wrong.

>> Federal investigation launched into Holyoke Soldiers’ Home stricken by virus

But where does that leave workers like Rivera?

“We have our bills like anyone else, mortgages, car payments groceries, medicine," she said. “Something has to give. And people have to be compensated and get paid."

The union representing workers at the home said they will be working to make their members whole, “...this was’s decision created this. We will be looking for all of our members time returned to them through all means necessary when this is over.”

As 25 Investigates has reported, staff at the home says they were not provided with proper protective gear when the outbreak started and were given a hard time when they wore their own.

When we asked Health and Human Services about the concern, the agency said it cannot comment on specific personnel issues. The secretary has said people don’t have enough sick time built up can borrow form future sick time.

Now, as a result of a new partnership with Holyoke Medical Center and Baystate Health, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is now able to get tests in a 24-turnaround time. Residents will be tested again as they are monitored for symptoms and additional veteran residents are being transferred to the home’s satellite unit at Holyoke Medical Center for monitoring and care.

As a result of new onboarding staff, the home now has a staff to resident ratio of 1:5 to 6 and is now regularly communicating with veteran residents’ health care proxies and is scheduling regular updates for families.

>> Complete local and national coronavirus coverage here


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