fb-pixel Skip to main content

Amid pandemic, state moving infected and non-infected alike from Chelsea Soldiers’ Home

Bedford VA Medical Center has accepted several veterans.

A man stood outside the Soldiers' Home in Chelsea.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Amid a deadly cluster of coronavirus cases, state officials have begun transferring veterans out the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, including those who aren’t infected but are at high risk — a move that has all but emptied the facility of confirmed cases, officials said Friday.

The decision comes as officials are also grappling with another outbreak at the state Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, where they have launched an investigation into how several deaths went unreported for days and at least 15 veterans have died after contracting the virus. Officials there plan to move as many of 20 veterans who’ve tested negative to a local hospital.


At least two veterans have died at the Chelsea home after contracting COVID-19, and state officials disclosed Friday that cases continued to escalate there, with 11 other residents and five staff members testing positive. Twelve other residents were still awaiting test results.

Brooke Karanovich, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Health and Human Services, declined to say how many veterans in total have moved from the Chelsea home, citing privacy concerns. But as of Friday afternoon, she said none of those who have tested positive remained in Chelsea.

The facility has also begun proactively transferring any veterans who are symptomatic or “who are at higher risk” of infection to other facilities within the Boston VA Health Care System to be monitored, state officials said.

But the moves haven’t eased all concerns. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and Representatives Richard E. Neal and Ayanna Pressley wrote a letter to the director of the Veterans Affairs New England Healthcare System on Friday urging him to “obtain more resources” to bolster supplies and testing at not just VA facilities but the two soldiers’ homes they’re helping support.

“Given the high-risk resident populations at both facilities and the shortages of medical supplies across the Commonwealth, we are concerned that Chelsea Soldiers’ Home is on the path to a similar outbreak” as Holyoke, they wrote.


Before the letter was released, Governor Charlie Baker and his aides said Friday that officials at the Chelsea home had taken various steps those in Holyoke hadn’t.

“One of the biggest differences between Chelsea … and the Holyoke Soldiers’ home is, people were reporting,” Baker said of notifying state officials of new cases. “People were doing what they were supposed to do.”

At least a handful of veterans in Chelsea were headed for the Bedford VA Medical Center, where officials on Thursday night completed work on a newly converted 22-bed ward specifically for coronavirus patients.

Kat Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Bedford VA Medical Center, said Friday morning that two patients from the Chelsea facility were already staying there, and that three others, who were initially transferred to the VA medical center in Jamaica Plain, were expected to arrive later Friday, she said.

The veterans were “identified as needing a higher level of care,” Bailey said, and are the first COVID-19 in-patients at the Bedford facility.

“Right now, we’ve only been asked to take the veterans from Chelsea. That was a request from the state-run facility,” Bailey said Friday. “We are staffed. We have a 22-bed community living center that is completely set up for COVID-positive [patients].”

The Bedford VA had initially planned to convert a nursing home ward by early next week, but accelerated the work after receiving the request from officials at the Chelsea home, Bailey said.


That included moving 15 patients who had been staying there to elsewhere in the facility, and installing a “zip-wall system” onto doors to create a so-called negative pressure environment to help stop the flow of contaminants from the COVID ward into surrounding areas.

Even as cases mounted in Chelsea, state officials stressed that the situation stood in stark contrast to the outbreak they’re managing in Holyoke, where 21 residents have died, including at least 15 who contracted COVID-19.

Another 59 residents and 18 staff members had also tested positive there as of Friday.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said Chelsea officials had “strong infection controls put in place” that included immediately quarantining anyone who was symptomatic.

In Holyoke, Baker has hired attorney Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor, to oversee a private investigation into the home and the events that led to the outbreak there, which Baker said he only learned of Sunday evening.

At that point, there had been eight deaths in a five-day span, according to officials. The Globe reported Tuesday that the outbreak was apparently kept secret, even as casualties accelerated, and employees were denied basic personal protection equipment after the facility reported positive cases.

Bennett Walsh, the facility’s superintendent, was placed on leave when the fatal outbreak came to light. He said in a statement Wednesday that he never concealed the outbreak.


State officials said they were working with Holyoke Medical Center on plans to eventually transfer 20 or more veterans who tested negative for COVID-19 to that hospital. The intent was to allow staff to “focus on care” for those who had tested positive and would remain at the Holyoke home.

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.