Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition encouraged by progress

Oct. 7, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – The spokesperson for the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition said the advocacy group is encouraged by the progress made so far in addressing the needs at the Holyoke Soldiers Home.

John Paradis told Reminder Publishing the architectural team from Payette, the firm hired by the Commonwealth to develop a new design for the home, has been “very comprehensive” in its approach to the issue.

According to the state, “Payette’s 12-week engagement work will identify a sustainable, public health-centered, implementation roadmap to provide significant upgrades to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home,” according to information from the governor’s office. The commonwealth is offering the public an opportunity to make comments about a new facility for veterans through an online survey at mass.gov/reimagining-the-future-of-the-soldiers-home-in-holyoke, as well as a dedicated email address at HolyokeSHProject@mass.gov.

Coalition members attended the Home’s Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 15 and Paradis said Payette officials said there have been more 335 responses to the survey so far.

So far, the process toward a new Home is “still early on,” Paradis said.

According to the governor’s office, a 2012 plan to update the Home is no longer “an appropriate sufficient option.”

What state officials are looking for the following:
• Building changes that support critical infection control protocols and requirements, in light of the COVID- 19 pandemic, including the ability to ensure sufficient space between veterans, care unit layouts and structures that allow for infection control cohorting as needed, and congregate dining and recreational spaces that support safe communal interactions.
• Evaluating the needs of both current and future veterans as the demographic of veterans and their preferences are rapidly changing, including what today’s veterans require in a long-term care residential setting as well as how that differs for our next generation of veterans and their unique needs.
• Best practice, up to date care for clinical needs such as dementia and hospice care.
• Updated building code and VA requirements which have changed significantly from 2012.

Paradis said, “We were extremely pleased that Payette and Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance [DCAMM] were very positive with all of our input and we are very hopeful that our recommendations are being heard – especially with getting as many long-term care beds into the Home as possible, all private rooms, private bath/shower – and with ADHC, which we believe (and from strong input from our family members) is critical.

He added, “There’s also interest in reimagining the campus and perhaps what may be a more purposeful use of the domiciliary building.”

The coalition issued this statement followed by a list of its recommendations: “The Coalition was pleased to have an opportunity to share its recommendations on areas the Coalition believes the state must not overlook when designing a new Home.

“The coalition was impressed with the Payette team’s sincere interest in receiving feedback and hearing about our ideas for a future Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke that, we hope, will set the standard for all long-term care facilities for state veteran homes in our nation.  We. genuinely believe this is our state’s opportunity to create a new campus for Veterans that will prevent any future outbreak of infectious disease and will be the model for care.

“We emphasize to the design team that the new Soldiers’ Home will need to serve Veterans for 70 to 100 years or more.  This is our chance to get it right for future generations of veterans. We look forward to continued dialogue with Payette during its engagement work and in doing everything we can to assist in the development of the state’s implementation plan to meet the April 15, 2021 federal Veterans’ Affairs’ State Home Construction Grant application deadline.”

The following are the recommendations the Coalition gave Payette:
• Build a new Soldiers’ Home with a state-of-the-art design that accommodates a 120-room addition plus the maximum number of additional long-term care rooms in the Soldiers’ Home current main building.  All rooms must be for single occupancy and include private shower & toilet and in accordance with small house design principles.  The design should ensure there are provisions for current and future long-term care needs to include a secure behavioral health unit, a secure dementia special care unit, and end of life care.
•  Create an enabling outdoor environment on the Holyoke campus that meets legal requirements for a dementia special care unit, allows for a vibrant Adult Day Health Care program and the needs of all Veteran residents in having daily access to the outdoors.
• Create an Adult Day Health Care area that is economically self-sustaining and that allows Veterans to age in place with a program that provides medical, nursing and personal care services with outcomes that in many cases would delay nursing home placement and reduce hospital admissions.
• Create a Family Contact Area with virtual technologies during times when quarantining or social distancing protocols prevent direct family visitation.
•  Ensure optimal clinical space requirements for essential on-site specialty care necessary for long-term care in such areas as podiatry, urology, cardiology, respiratory therapy, dentistry, optometry/ophthalmology and physical therapy.
•  Accommodate service animals & pet therapy as more Veterans require the use of service animals and pet therapy for their health care.
•  Renovate and modernize the Soldiers’ Home “canteen” recreation center with movie screen, space for community events.
•  Sustain the current Green House and Recreation Room areas with sufficient space to meet the increasing demand for non-traditional and whole health therapies such as yoga and meditation.
•  Build in sensory stimulation best practices to include space for a Snoezelen Room.  Such a room in long-term care facilities help reduce agitation and anxiety in supporting people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.  The room would have music, aromatherapy, lighting and textures to help stimulate the senses, encourage interaction and aid in communication with Veteran users.
• Create a gaming center with both traditional recreation like billiards, card and puzzle tables as well as virtual technologies that appeal to Veterans who enjoy gaming devices.
• Create areas for quiet reflection that use soft music and lighting and other design principles that assist Veteran residents with dementia who are experiencing symptoms of sundowning.
• Redesign the current outdoor courtyard at the Soldiers’ Home for a much-improved environment for common area use throughout the year to include a rubberized surface conducive for senior citizens.  The courtyard should include shade and landscaping for a stimulating and comfortable space.
•  Retain the Soldiers’ Home Canteen with a snack bar for in-between meals and to support family gatherings and large community events that are so popular for Veteran residents.
• Create a gift shop for purchases throughout the day for incidentals, cards, sundries, and apparel.
• Keep a Multi-Denominational Chapel for the spiritual needs of Veterans and their family members.
• Upgrade the Home’s elevator system for improved wayfinding and in keeping with the best nursing home industry practices for safety.

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