The attorney for suspended Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh Thursday asserted he is being wrongly blamed for the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the state-run long term care facility.
During a more than hour-long wide-ranging presentation to reporters, William Bennett repeatedly portrayed Walsh as a “good and honorable man,” who did the best he could, but was nonetheless powerless to stop the coronavirus from spreading through the Soldiers’ Home as it did at so many other long-term care facilities across the country.
"It is one thing to suggest Bennett Walsh may have made mistakes, and of course he has.But it is something else to accuse him not of making good-faith mistakes but of a malicious coverup," said Bennett. "It is time for that poison to be removed from public discussion about these events."
Bennett, a former Hampden District Attorney and Walsh’s uncle, said the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker had set out to scapegoat Walsh.
"Rather than try to figure out in a calm, unemotional, objective, scientific way, we started with blame and there is a drumbeat of blame day-after-day," said Bennett.
For much of the press conference, Bennett sought to refute the scathing report from former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein, who was hired by Baker to conduct an independent investigation of what happened at the Soldiers’ Home where 76 veterans died from COVID-19.
That report said the leadership of the Soldiers’ Home made a litany of “utterly baffling” decisions including an especially fateful move to combine two dementia wards. But Bennett insisted that was not the “catastrophe” the Pearlstein report made it out to be.
"It had no impact on the spread of the virus," Bennett said.
Pointing to a floorplan of the Soldiers’ Home, Bennett said veterans were moved out of their rooms and put together in open spaces, including the dining room, in accordance with the home’s written virus response plan.
"They set up the room thoughtfully and tried to stay on top of things," said Bennett. "Their whole goal was to try to protect the vets."
Responding to a request for comment, a spokeswoman for the Baker administration said the Pearlstein report speaks for itself.
Baker said the Pearlstein report was “nothing short of gut-wrenching” and it showed there was a failure of leadership at the home,
Walsh has been issued a letter from Baker terminating his employment. Bennett is challenging the governor’s authority to fire Walsh. A court hearing is scheduled next week.
The press conference was held the week after Walsh was named as a defendant in a $176 million class action lawsuit filed in federal court by the family of a Korean War Army veteran who died of COVID-19.
Bennett said some of the information in the complaint filed for the lawsuit is incorrect.