Greenfield family speaks to shock of losing their father to COVID-19 at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

  • The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, as seen in June, from the site of a memorial. At least 76 veterans died as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility earlier this year. Staff File Photo/Carol Lollis

Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2020 4:54:51 PM

When the doors to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home closed to visitors in March, the Letourneau sisters of Greenfield considered bringing home their father, a Turners Falls man who had been a resident of the facility for the past four years.

“I remember there was a moment, earlier this year, when they stopped letting people visit,” recalled Danielle Letourneau. “My sister (Nicole) said, ‘I wish we could just scoop him up.’ I remember thinking, ‘No, they’ve got this.’”

But on April 11, their father, Dean Letourneau, 74, died at the Soldiers’ Home. Though it wasn’t until after his death that his family was told he tested positive for COVID-19, Dean was one of at least 76 veterans who died as a result of an outbreak at the health care facility earlier this year.

“He was always a helper,” Danielle said of her father, recalling a time, not many years ago, when he showed up to her home in Greenfield to work on a fence. “He was active … even when he knew there was something going on with his mind.”

Letourneau said that to her knowledge, her father was one of at least two Franklin County residents who died of COVID-19 while living at the Soldiers’ Home.

“(Dean) was a good guy — a quiet guy, but a funny guy,” she recalled.

Tuesday, a special joint oversight committee of the state Legislature is beginning its own investigation into the outbreak that took place at the facility. The first hearing, scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. at Holyoke Community College, invites families to testify.

As of late last week, Danielle — who had seen the call for testimony sent to all families — said she wasn’t sure if she would participate in Tuesday’s hearing.

“I haven’t decided,” she said at the time. “With everything going on in the world, I haven’t had a ton of time to process it all.”

Danielle said if she were to testify, she would want people to know that in all of the facility’s communication about her father after the building was closed to visitors, she was told “he was fine.”

That was until the middle of the night on April 10, when the Soldiers’ Home called to let Danielle and Nicole know their father was sick. Normally, she said, they were both hyper-vigilant about answering their phones at night — but on this night, that happened to not be the case. According to Danielle, staff left a voicemail, instead.

The next morning, she explained, they were called with the news Dean had died.

“He was fine; he was fine, and then he died,” she said. “We were like, ‘What changed?’”

Danielle said they had been told her father moved rooms at least once. She said it was possible he was placed with caregivers who didn’t know her father as well, and thus wouldn’t have been able to notice sooner that he was sick.

But had he not been exposed to COVID-19, she believes he would still be alive.

“He was 74, and kind of healthy as a horse, other than dementia,” she said.

Prior to the pandemic, Danielle said her family had always had a great experience with the Soldiers’ Home.

“The way they’d handled other outbreaks, like the flu, in the past ...” she began. “We trusted everything they told us, so it was a super shock when they told us (he’d died).”

Six months after the death of her father, Danielle said she’s still conflicted about her experience with the Soldiers’ Home.

“The Soldiers’ Home was really good to our family. They really saved us from everything else that was going on with him. When he got there, we relaxed,” she said. “He was safe, and he was for a long time.”

In addition to Tuesday’s hearing, the Legislature’s special joint oversight committee will hold another in-person hearing on Oct. 27 to hear from staff members, according to state Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. And for those who are unable or unwilling to attend those two in-person hearings, a virtual hearing will take place on Thursday, Oct. 22.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne. Daily Hampshire Gazette Reporter Dusty Christensen contributed to this report.




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