At least 12 of 18 dead at Massachusetts veterans hospital had COVID-19

(BOSTON) — The number of deaths at a Massachusetts health care facility for veterans continued to rise amid the novel coronavirus crisis, with at least 18 residents reported dead as of Thursday afternoon, state officials said.

Twelve of the veterans who died tested positive for COVID-19, with results for the other six negative, pending or unknown, according to the state’s Office of Health and Human Services.

Through Wednesday, there had been 15 deaths at the hospital.

The Soldier’s Home in the city of Holyoke, a veteran’s center and hospital, has been battling a growing number of coronavirus cases and allegations that multiple residents died without the government being informed.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said that he was alerted to “the gravity of the situation” on Saturday, when people associated with the home reached out to his office anonymously.

Morse said he then contacted the Board of Health, but he did not hear back by Saturday and decided to call the home’s superintendent himself on Sunday.

“I was shocked on the phone call when the superintendent let me know that there had been eight deaths between Wednesday and Sunday without any public notification, without any notification to my office and also just no notification to the state government that oversees the facility in the first place,” Morse said in a Facebook Live speech on Tuesday.

At least 23 veteran residents have tested positive in the home, according to the state’s Office of Health and Human Services. Testing for staff is still in the works, but so far at least seven staff members have been positive.

“This is a critical health situation for our veterans, and the commonwealth will continue to make all resources available to the leadership of the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes to contain the spread of the virus,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

Morse said Wednesday the situation was “likely going to get worse before it gets better.”

“Every decision needs to be based on, How do we save as many lives as possible? How do we stop the spread of this virus?” Morse said in a Facebook live speech.

The Soldier’s Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Walsh did not respond to request for comment from ABC News.

He did release a statement to MassLive defending his actions, saying he provided regular updates to state officials about the number of residents and staff who were tested and their results after a resident tested positive March 21.

He also said that all family members were contacted and told that a resident tested positive.

“Our focus then and always was on the veterans and their families,” Walsh said in his statement.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday called for an investigation into the deaths.

“We will get to the bottom of what happened,” the governor said.

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