HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — Governor Charlie Baker has filed a $56 million bill to fund a class action lawsuit settlement following the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a Holyoke soldiers’ home. If approved, the money will be allocated to victims and their families who either became ill or died from COVID-19 between March 1 and June 23, 2020.

In 2020, 84 veterans died from COVID-19, while 84 more contracted the virus and survived. From state funding, families of fallen veterans will receive an average of at least $400,000. And veterans who contract the virus and survive will receive at least $10,000. The families of the veterans said the money would not change what they had to go through.

“I think it’s an acknowledgment that at some level there is some responsibility on the part of the Commonwealth,” said State Senator John Velis.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday filed an additional bill that would fund a $56 million class action lawsuit to protect veterans and their property who lived at Soldiers Home Holyoke from March 1 to June 23, 2020 and became ill or died from COVID-19.

“I hope the governor doesn’t expect you to thank you, because it means absolutely nothing to me,” said Erin Shadel, whose father lives in the Soldiers’ House.

Shadel’s father served both his city as a 34-year veteran of the Northampton Fire Department and his country as a US Army veteran. He moved into the Holyoke Soldiers Home in October 2019 and contracted COVID-19 twice at home.

“We were told that he had COVID and he was transferred to Holyoke Hospital, but in fact it was not so. He was still at home and was admitted to the COVID ward along with other COVID patients. So we had no idea where he was for about 7-10 days. I have no idea where he is… It was excruciating. It was absolutely excruciating. Nobody knew what to do,” Shadel said.

“It was the nurse described it as a war zone. My father wore someone else’s clothes. He didn’t have his own clothes. He had photographs that did not belong to him, which means that someone else lacked photographs of their loved ones, and my father did not have his,” Shadel said.

Shadel explained that her father has dementia, which was exacerbated by the loneliness and constant moving he faced during those four months in 2020.

“There are times when he does not know me as his daughter. There are times when he does not know the names of my sons or my brother. But what he remembers, no doubt, is that he will never want to go back to the fourth floor,” she explained.

In a letter to the state legislature, Governor Baker said, in part:

“While this financial settlement cannot compensate for the losses incurred at Soldiers Home Holyoke in the early days of the pandemic, our administration hopes that this resolution will provide some benefit to affected veterans and their families.”

“My definition of closure is very different. My definition of closing is to stop the policy. Stop hiding… They should take responsibility and apologize,” Shadel explained.

First of all, she said that she was inviting the governor to visit the house.

“In the two years and four months since the worst tragedy in any nursing home in the United States, he has not visited Holyoke Soldiers Home. He was not there to thank the staff who took care of our soldiers. He wasn’t there to even say hello to the survivors,” Shadel said.

Shadel said that, in her opinion, there is still a lot to be done to address the shortcomings in the Soldiers’ House.

“Infrastructure changes are needed. Changes must be made to the way the institution is run. There must be a family member on the Board of Trustees. There must be a veteran on the board of trustees to speak for themselves,” Shadel said.

Something State Senator John Velis acknowledges.

“A lot of good decisions have been made, but the real work that I think will determine whether the legislature has done its job in terms of responding to this will be in the oversight and governance reforms that we need to put in place. set precautions to ensure this never happens again,” Velis explained.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives and then to the Senate. Senator Velis said he hoped the process would be completed quickly.

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