BOSTON — The superintendent and medical director of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home are facing charges of neglect and bodily harm related to five veterans under their care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indictments were returned by a grand jury on Thursday against former Superintendent Bennet Walsh and medical director Dr. David Clinton. Each is facing 10 counts -- five each for criminal neglect and for serious bodily injury -- and face up to 10 years in prison on each charge. They are expected to be arraigned on these charges.
"We are alleging that Walsh and Clinton were ultimately responsible for a decision on March 27 that led to tragic and deadly results," said Attorney General Maura Healey on announcing the charges on Friday. "Walsh and Clinton were responsible for the decision to combine 42 veterans, some COVID positive and others, not even showing any symptoms of COVID into a single unit that usually accommodates 25 beds."
The outbreak at the Soldiers' Home in March is believed to have resulted in the loss of at least 76 lives. Walsh was removed in March and summarily fired in June after a damning independent report on conditions at the veterans home commissioned by the state. Earlier this week, a Hampden Superior Court judge ruled that Gov. Charlie Baker did not have the authority to remove Walsh and that it was up to the Board of Trustees. The board is expected to meet next week.
"It's truly heartbreaking to think about how residents and staff suffered at this facility, from the time we became aware of this, we made it a priority we owed it to the families who lost loved ones and these veterans who served our country to get to the bottom of what happened," said Healey.
The investigation launched in April, which included Medicaid fraud team investigators, spoke with more than 90 family members of veterans and others who called into the attorney general's office.
The charges brought forth are related to the care of five veterans, three of whom contracted COVID-19 and one of whom died, and the home's decision to consolidate patients who showed symptoms of the disease with those who were asymptomatic. The novel coronavirus has proved deadly to the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions. More than 6,000 of the state's 9,100 casualties were nursing home patients and nearly 25,000 residents and employees of long-term health-care facilities have been infected.
"The home decided to put six or seven veterans in rooms that were meant to hold only four people," said Healey. "And because there wasn't enough space in these overcrowded rooms for all the veterans, the home placed nine beds in a dining room. ...
"We allege that these five were asymptomatic, they were not showing any symptoms of COVID-19, before being moved into this consolidate unit, and we allege that that decision to move them those five into that unit was a decision that their risk of exposure and their risk of harm, and death."
Walsh and his attorney have claimed that Walsh had done the best he could under the circumstances and that he was being made the scapegoat for the administration's failures as the pandemic took hold in the state.
The attorney general said there are active investigations into the care provided other long-term care facilities in the state and that while the criminal case against Walsh and Clinton is based on them being "the ultimate decisionmakers" further charges related to the Soldiers' Home may be warranted if new evidence is uncovered.
Healey said she had spoken with family members prior to announcement to express her sorrow and make them aware of the criminal charges.
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North County Veterans Hold First Picnic Since Pandemic
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
Veterans Agent Stephen Roy, right, speaks with a veteran on Friday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — With the summer ramping up and the pandemic ramping down, local veterans thought it was the right time to get together for a "revenge picnic."
"We like to have these annual barbeques for the veterans and folks that we serve," North County Veterans Agent Stephen Roy said Friday at the Greylock Club's pavilion. "We missed it last year so this is a bit of a revenge picnic."
Roy said they like to hold a few of these get-togethers a year but with the pandemic, his meetings with area veterans have been limited to one-on-ones.
"It is just so good to get everyone together to have some good times," he said. "The guys get together and start talking. There is a lot of camaraderie, and it gives us the chance to help out some people."
The commission granted Chairman Jeff Naughton and Administrative Officer Angie Ellison permission last week to begin reviewing applications for both a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) and a new airport manager.
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Pittsfield's Emmanuel Nda broke a meet record and helped the Generals break into the top 10 at Saturday's Central/Western Massachusetts Division 1 Championships at Westfield State University. click for more