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Criminal Indictments Brought In Holyoke Soldiers' Home COVID-19 Deaths

The Holyoke Soldier's Home
Mass.Dept of Veterans Services
/

         Criminal charges were announced today stemming from the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

       The former superintendent at the soldiers’ home, Bennett Walsh, and former Medical Director Dr. David Clinton were indicted on criminal neglect charges for their roles in the COVID-19 outbreak that contributed to the deaths of at least 76 veterans at the state-owned facility.

   " To know that they died under the most horrific circumstances is truly shocking, " said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who Friday announced the charges that were contained in an indictment returned Thursday by a statewide grand jury.

    The COVID-19 outbreak at the soldiers’ home was one of the deadliest at a long term care facility in the country.

    "We believe this is the first criminal case in the country brought against those involved with nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic," Healey said.

    Walsh and Clinton are both charged with five counts each of being a “Caretaker Who Wantonly or Recklessly Commits or Permits Bodily Injury to an Elder or Disabled Person,” and five counts each of being a “Caretaker Who Wantonly or Recklessly Commits or Permits Abuse, Neglect, or Mistreatment to an Elder or Disabled Person.”

    Both men could face prison terms if convicted.  

    An attorney for Walsh, Tracy Miner, said in a statement the attorney general is “scapegoating” her client.  She said Walsh, like other nursing home administrators across the country, could not prevent the virus from entering their facilities or stopping the spread once it arrived. 

     Clinton could not be reached for comment and it could not be determined if he has a lawyer.

    Both will be arraigned on the charges in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield at a later date according to Healey.

    The investigation by the Attorney General’s office focused on March 27, 2020 when the decision was made to consolidate two locked dementia units.  It meant that 42 veterans, who had different COVID-19 statuses, were crowded together.   Healey said the indictment alleges that some veterans classified by the home as “asymptomatic” were, in fact, showing symptoms of infection at the time of the consolidation or shortly after.

   "We have charged these two, Walsh and Clinton, because they were the ultimate decision makers responsible for the deadly decision to consolidate these two units," said Healey.

    Before announcing the charges publicly, Healey said she spoke with several of the deceased veterans’ family members.

   "And while this criminal indictment can not bring back their loved ones, I do hope sincerely that it provides those affected by this tragedy some solace that we are doing everything we can to hold accountable the individuals we believe are responsible here," said Healey.

    The lead prosecutor on the case, Kevin Lownds, said more than 90 family members were interviewed as part of the investigation.

   "We spoke to anyone who contacted our office regarding this investigation and those stories and their information were instrumental in pursuing this case," said Lownds.

    The criminal indictment follows a damning report released in June by former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein, who was hired by Gov. Charlie Baker to investigate what went wrong at the soldiers’ home.     His report said the home’s leadership made “utterly baffling” decisions.

    On the day the report was released, Baker fired Walsh as superintendent of the home.  But a superior court judge earlier this week ruled Baker lacked the authority and voided Walsh’s termination.

     However, Judge John Ferrara said the trustees of the soldiers’ home – who are appointed by Baker – have the authority to fire Walsh.

    The trustees have scheduled a special meeting on September 30th.

     U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office also began an investigation earlier this year into the outbreak at the soldiers’ home.

  

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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