HOLYOKE (CBS) -- The federal government is now investigating a coronavirus outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home that has resulted in more than two dozen veteran deaths. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Massachusetts and the Department Of Justice's Civil Rights Division announced their joint investigation on Friday.
"We will aggressively investigate recent events at the Home and, as needed, require the Commonwealth to adopt reforms to ensure patient safety in the future," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement. "My condolences to the families of those veterans who died while in the Home's care; we will get to the bottom of what happened here."
The Baker Administration and Attorney General Maura Healey have each launched separate investigations in Holyoke. As of Thursday, 32 veteran residents have died, with 28 testing positive for coronavirus. Sixty-nine residents have tested positive, and so have 68 staff members.
The federal investigation will look at whether the home violated residents' rights by failing to give them adequate medical care.
"Seeing as these people spent some part of their lives protecting us, we can now use the law to protect them," Lelling said.
He said if needed, his office is in the position to require the state to make changes to guarantee patients' safety in the future.
"We felt in this case, when you're dealing with elderly and disabled veterans that there was a pretty strong federal interest in making sure these people were treated fairly and correctly," Lelling said.
Gov. Baker said he welcomed the investigation.
"Remember, the entity that does the survey work for the Soldiers' Homes is the VA, which is a federal entity," Baker said. "So I certainly believe that he's got a position there where a review would be appropriate if he deemed it to be."
Veterans' advocate Steven Connor said the more answers they can get for families, the better.
"Now with the feds getting involved, I imagine everything is gonna get out about what's happening and what's happened," he said.
The superintendent of the home, Bennett Walsh, has been placed on leave. He says he did notify the state about the outbreak right away but the mayor and the governor say they were not properly updated about how fast the numbers were rising.
Residents and families can contact investigators at 1-888-221-6023 or by email at USAMA.email@example.com.
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