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Technology helps keep formerly homeless veterans in Somerville monitored during pandemic

Cherish Health recently distributed sensor patches to residents of the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville. One of the veterans, Julian Saunders, shows the sensor patch.Handout

A Somerville facility that houses formerly homeless veterans is now getting some help in keeping its residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cherish Health, a new Cambridge-based medical technology firm, is teaming with the nonprofit Health eVillages to offer residents of the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center specialized sensor patches to monitor their respiration, oxygen levels, temperature, heart rate, and other vital functions.

The center, owned by Volunteers of America Massachusetts, provides transitional and permanent housing and support services for 29 veterans, most of them seniors. While none have yet tested positive for COVID-19, Charles Gagnon, Volunteers’ president and CEO, said the sensors will help ensure that if they show signs of the illness, their doctors and center staff can respond quickly with appropriate measures.


Developed by Cambridge-based Cherish Health, the sensor devices attach to the individual’s chest. On May 8, they were offered to center residents, nearly all of whom opted to use them.

“It’s rare that a nonprofit gets access to a cutting edge technology that helps the most challenged people in our county, in this case veterans,” Gagnon said.

The initiative comes as at least 74 veterans at the state Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and at least 29 at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, have died of COVID-19.

Founded by high tech health care entrepreneur Sumit Nagpal, Cherish Health provides its medical sensors to elderly and disabled people to help them live more independently. Health eVillages was founded in 2011 by global health care activist Donato Tramuto to bring mobile health technology to places where medical care is lacking.

The two organizations recently agreed to partner on telemedicine initiatives for the elderly and frail, and other ways to advance Health eVillages’ goal of addressing social factors — such as poverty ― that make some population groups more vulnerable to illness.


The two groups have separately agreed to collaborate in providing Cherish Health’s sensory patches to residents of senior facilities who may be infected or exposed to COVID-19. The Somerville project kicks off the effort.

Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone played a key role in bringing the program to the Massachusetts Bay center.

“We’ve heard tragic stories involving multiple deaths at veterans’ facilities in other parts of our state and for that reason I have brought together a number of partners who are working to prevent that from happening here in Somerville,” he said in a statement.

In addition to founding five companies, Nagpal has worked in executive positions on health care issues for Comcast and Accenture.

“Over the years I’ve realized that health care needs to become closer to where we live, work, and play, and to become more proactive,” he said, calling both essential to controlling health costs and preventing illness.

Nagpal said he quickly realized his company’s sensor devices were “custom built” for COVID-19 since they can ensure seniors infected or exposed get timely care and are isolated from others.

The health data recorded from Massachusetts Bay veterans is transmitted to Cherish Health, the resident’s doctor, and center staff. In the event of an abnormal reading, the system sends out an alarm signal. Cherish Health then assists in whatever actions the doctor deems necessary.

Marlborough-based Health eVillages is funding the operations and some of the technology for the Somerville project.

While COVID-19 poses an enormous health challenge, Tramuto, Health eVillages’ founder and chairman, said the Somerville initiative gives him a feeling of “calmness” because it highlights the growing number of partnerships emerging to fight the virus.


“We are only going to win this if we bring innovation and collaboration together,” he said.

John Laidler can be reached at