HOLYOKE, Mass. — This is the first Veterans Day for the families whose loved one died during the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home. Seventy-six veteran residents died. Dozens more were infected along with staff members.
“This is our first Veterans Day without our loved one. Some of us, you know, my father-in-law would have been 90 in September. So, first birthdays, you know, first holidays, it’s going to be a rough year,” said Cheryl Malandrinos. Her father-in-law, Harry Malandrinos was one of the residents who died in March.
He served in the Navy during the Korean War, then as a teacher for 40 years.
“You just rip that bandage off, and the wound bleeds again,” Malandrinos told Boston 25 News Anchor, Kerry Kavanaugh.
“It’s going be a difficult day. I’m trying to stay busy. I am going to visit him and say a prayer and giving thanks.” Sheryl Blais lost her dad Robert. Robert Blais also served in Korea. He was what’s known as a ‘Tin Can Sailor,’ someone who served on a destroyer.
“He was the most unselfish person I’ve ever met. He was always giving to others. And he’s definitely my hero,” Blais said.
After COVID-19 ravaged the Holyoke Soldiers' Home in the spring, an investigation blamed tragic missteps by administrators who combined units of infected and un-infected residents, a gross lack of personal protective equipment, and no clear infection prevention plan.
“Until there’s a new soldiers' home until there are changes made there that can prevent what happened to these veterans that we’ve lost, there’s still work to be done,” said Malandrinos. “We’re entrusting people to take care of our loved ones.”
Families of those who died, or got very sick have united and formed a coalition, fighting for change.
“We’re fighting for a new home. We’re fighting for funding, we’re fighting for Adult Day Health Care Center, we’re fighting for better care and governance. We just want a better place for our veterans,” said Blais.
Susan Kenney, who lost her father Air Force veteran Charles Lowell, says we all have a role to play to recognize and honor our veterans past and present. And to prepare for the veterans of the future.
“They have given so much for us and our country and deserved to be cared for with honor and dignity. If my father were here he would be marching in a parade somewhere doing exactly that. I miss him more than words can say,” Kenney said.
“We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to fight for this until the end,” said Blais.
The coalition of families is raising money to create a permanent memorial to all the veterans who lost their lives during the COVID-19 outbreak. For information on how to donate to that memorial fund, click here.
The state has been providing weekly updates about the improvements being made to the home. This week they told us long term care veteran residents moved in private spaces to improve infection control.
They are also working on a new community living center that will open in fall, 2022.
Work is being done to improve the existing facility, advocates say an entirely new facility is warranted.
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