Families of veterans who died in outbreak speak to lawmakers

Families of veterans who died in outbreak speak to lawmakers

Family members of veterans who died during a coronavirus outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home testified Tuesday before lawmakers investigating the outbreak that took the lives of nearly 80 veterans.

Susan Kenney told the Special Joint Legislative Oversight Committee she couldn’t get any information from the home’s administration after she found out about the outbreak.

“When I went to bed that night, I heard veterans were dying. I didn’t know how many. I spoke to my father’s case worker twice that day and there was no mention of it, which I thought was odd. I called the command center and didn’t get an answer for more than 30 hours,” Kenney said.

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So she drove to the Soldiers' Home with the message “Is my father alive?” written on the windows of her car.

Her father, 78-year-old Air Force veteran Charles Lowell, died of the virus on April 15.

In all, 76 veterans who contracted the virus at the home died, one of the deadliest outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the nation. The home’s former superintendent and chief medical officer face criminal neglect charges.

Laurie Mandeville Beaudette testified that she learned that her father, James, tested positive in April after calling the nurses station and being told he was in a negative pressure room on a COVID-positive floor.

“The hardest thing I ever had to tell him was that it was okay to let go. I didn’t want him holding on just for me. It would be too selfish. It was awful,” she said.

The 17-member oversight committee is hearing testimony to understand the outbreak and recommend reforms. It is holding a virtual hearing on Thursday.

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