HOLYOKE – The State Legislature’s Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Oversight Committee held its first public hearing at Holyoke Community College Oct. 20 for family members to share testimony regarding the COVID19 outbreak at the Home, which tragically led to the deaths of 76 veterans.
State Sen. John C. Velis sits on the Committee and was among those who helped organize the hearings. In his opening remarks, Velis said how grateful he was to the families for sharing their stories.
“I will never be able to truly understand the pain you and your families endured, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to relive those tragic months last spring,” said Velis. “Your strength, your courage, and your determination to seek justice and a better future for the Home, is inspiring. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here today.”
The Committee heard from a number of different families during the hearing, which lasted for over three hours. Written testimony was also submitted to the Committee. Laurie Mandeville-Beaudette was one of the family members who testified during their hearing. Her Father, James Mandeville, had lived at the Soldiers’ Home for 16 years, and passed away in April from COVID-19. She said it was extremely difficult not to be able to be there to help her father. “He constantly complained during our Facetime calls that he felt like he was in prison. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be there with him. I was his daughter, his voice, his best friend. He relied on me for almost everything,” said Mandeville-Beaudette. “Please do not let a disaster like this ever happen again.”
She also stated that she believed that the small room sizes, lack of PPE and proper sanitation, and poor medical decisions by administrators created “the perfect storm” for COVID-19 to run rampant in the Soldiers’ Home.
Cheryl Turgeon also testified during the hearing. Her father, Dennis Threshner, is still a resident at the Home. In her testimony, she noted how many other families have been impacted and how important it is for the Home to be upgraded.
“To the other 76 veteran’s family members, I hear your voices and you are not forgotten,” said Turgeon. “They [current residents] need a new home, they need adult daycare, they need protections.”
Sen. Walter Timilty is one of the co-chairs of the Oversight Committee. After the hearing, he expressed how moving and emotional the testimonies of the family members were.
“The heartfelt testimony that was offered today is vital to the Special Committee’s oversight process. What these veterans and families have endured is a true tragedy of epic proportions. I am so very thankful that these family members were able to summon the strength to share the tragic stories of their heroic loved ones with the Committee today,” said Timilty. “It was a very emotional hearing. It is my fervent hope that through the sharing of these stories, that we as a committee are able to find answers for those who were lost to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home.”
The Committee will hold a second public hearing for families virtually Oct. 22, and two hearings for Soldiers’ Home staff next week on Oct. 27 and 29. When asked about the Committee’s work moving forward, Velis stressed the importance of translating what they hear in the hearings into tangible recommendations and reforms.
“For us to truly understand the necessary steps needed to better the Home and its veterans, it is essential that we fully grasp the magnitude of the events that transpired, and that is why these hearings with families, staff, and others are so critical,” said Velis. “The Home means so much to our veterans and our community, and we in the legislature need to make sure we are responding to every single issue and concern that contributed to this tragedy.”
The Committee has a deadline of March 31a to file a report on its investigation and recommendations along with any possible legislation.