“We began this investigation on behalf of the families who lost loved ones under tragic circumstances …”
In some of the biggest news to come out of Mass last week, Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office is bringing criminal charges against the superintendent and former medical director of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton, who were in power there during the deaths of 76 veterans from COVID-19, were indicted on multiple criminal negligence charges relating to their alleged improper handling of patients amid a staffing shortage.
DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism recently mined piles of data underlying the state’s failure to protect people in long-term care facilities, public and private alike. At the time of the report, about 30% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state were attributed to people older than 60. While our feature noted that Holyoke, “while certainly an outlier in terms of both deaths and missteps, was not an aberration,” the Soldiers’ Home, which has now had more than 100 deaths since March, is nonetheless widely considered the worst example of an outbreak at a state-run facility.
“We began this investigation on behalf of the families who lost loved ones under tragic circumstances and to honor these men who bravely served our country,” Healey said. “We allege that the actions of these defendants during the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility put veterans at higher risk of infection and death and warrant criminal charges.”
Leadership at the Soldiers’ Home consolidated two dementia units. The combined unit included 42 individuals, with those who had tested positive or were showing symptoms of COVID-19 reportedly forced to stay in a six-person room that’s intended for four, while nine asymptomatic patients had to sleep just a few feet apart in the dining room.
Attorneys for the two individuals charged did not respond to requests for comment.
The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition, a group advocating for transparency, said in a statement: “We now hope that justice will prevail and that the state builds a new home in Holyoke as a lasting memorial to all those who have died. … We will remain active in our community in ensuring all current and future Veterans get the best care they have earned.”
Zack is a veteran reporter. He writes for DigBoston and VICE, and formerly reported for the Boston Courant and Bulletin Newspapers.