U.S. Rep. Neal scopes out new veterans home in Holyoke

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, center, tours the construction site of the new Veterans’ Home in Holyoke, joined by Massachusetts Veterans’ Services Secretary Jon Santiago, right.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, center, tours the construction site of the new Veterans’ Home in Holyoke, joined by Massachusetts Veterans’ Services Secretary Jon Santiago, right. STAFF PHOTO/EMILEE KLEIN

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, stopped by the construction site at 110 Cherry St. on Tuesday to gauge progress on development of the new $482.6 million facility expected to open in 2028. The new building’s foundation was taking shape this week.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, stopped by the construction site at 110 Cherry St. on Tuesday to gauge progress on development of the new $482.6 million facility expected to open in 2028. The new building’s foundation was taking shape this week. STAFF PHOTO/EMILEE KLEIN

A rendering of the planned Veterans’ Home in Holyoke.

A rendering of the planned Veterans’ Home in Holyoke. Payette

An aerial rendering of the planned Veterans’ Home in Holyoke.

An aerial rendering of the planned Veterans’ Home in Holyoke. Payette

A rendering of the planned Veterans’ Home in Holyoke.

A rendering of the planned Veterans’ Home in Holyoke. Payette

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 04-04-2024 11:49 AM

HOLYOKE — Congressman Richard Neal often frequented the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke years ago to visit his grandfather and uncle — the latter of whom served in the Korean War for exactly one year, one month and one day — and witnessed firsthand the facility’s impact on veterans and their families.

“I had a chance to go through many of the rooms and one of the things that caught my attention was the Alzheimer’s unit,” Neal said. “We forget how hard that is for families. For somebody that, at 19 years old, participated in the D-Day invasion, and to see them at 90 years old. It’s a very different story. The loved ones and the care is really important.”

On Tuesday, Neal stopped by the same facility — renamed as the Veterans’ Home in Holyoke — once again, only this time to look out at the foundation of a new building in the early construction phases at the Cherry Street site. The new $482.6 million facility will include 234 long-term care beds, nursing support and community spaces.

“For so many people that come here this is the last stop. This is home. And I think we need to remember that,” Neal said.

The project’s construction broke ground nine months ago and will continue until late 2026. Project Manager Joseph Fazio said veterans will move into the facility by early 2027, and the entire project will be complete by summer of 2028.

“We’re slightly ahead of schedule,” Fazio said. “We got started with good momentum and it continued. We’re about to start construction on the steel framing in just a few weeks.”

The new building’s 350,000-square-foot design is based on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ small house model and includes gardens, physical therapy facilities, a dental suite, a hair salon, and dining and social spaces, according to a grant application the state submitted to the VA in April of 2021.

“With respect to the actual building, this is moving toward a small family home, moving away from the institutionalization of veterans and long-term care,” said Jon Santiago, secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services of Massachusetts, who accompanied Neal on Tuesday’s site visit.

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Each resident floor of the new building is designed with two to three homes per floor, typically with 12 beds per home, accommodating a maximum of 36 veterans per floor. Most rooms are single occupancy with private baths, but one room in each home is larger than a standard room so that it can function as a double, a couple’s room or a bariatric room. Each home also has a private den to provide residents and families with a quiet space.

The existing 227,915-square-foot building opened in 1952 on the hilltop of a 16.6-acre property. The facility was expanded with several additions in the 1970s. Over its lifetime, there have been several interior upgrades and renovations. The current facility has many triple- and quadruple-bed rooms, and no private baths. There is also a small outpatient clinic within the building but not part of the long-term care facility.

The former Soldiers’ Home became a focus of controversy in 2020 after more than 70 veterans died there in one of the nation’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks. The home’s former superintendent and medical director were indicted on charges of criminal negligence in relation to the tragedy. Both men changed their not guilty pleas in late March, and avoided going to trial.

“We’ve put mechanisms, policies and procedures here to make sure that what happened here during COVID will never happened again,” Santiago said.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.