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2 Former Administrators of Veterans Home Charged After 76 Residents Died in COVID-19 Outbreak

A former superintendent and a former doctor of a veterans home in Massachusetts have been charged in criminal court due to a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 patients.

Victims “risked their lives from the beaches of Normandy, to some the jungles of Vietnam and to know that they died under the most horrific circumstances is truly shocking,” state Attorney General Maura Healey (D) told reporters on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Defendants Bennett Walsh, the former superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and the facility’s former Medical Director Dr. David Clinton were indicted by a grand jury on charges of causing or permitting serious bodily injury or neglect of an elder.

An independent report released in June for Gov. Charlie Baker (R)  criticized Walsh and Holyoke Solders Home administrators for their actions amid a COVID-19 outbreak. Authors singled out a decision to combined two dementia units that contained people infected with virus. This crowded more than 40 veterans into space designed to hold just 25, the authors stated.

“This overcrowding was the opposite of infection control; instead, it put those who were asymptomatic at even greater risk of contracting COVID-19,” the report stated.

From the analysis, released in June by the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery [citations removed] :

Our interviews with the staff who were ordered to move veterans from 2-North into 1-North were searing. One nurse described the move as “total pandemonium.” A recreational therapist who was instructed to help with the move said that she felt like she was “walking [the veterans] to their death” and that the veterans were “terrified.” A social worker “felt it was like moving the concentration camp—we [were] moving these unknowing veterans off to die.” After the consolidation was completed, one nurse described 1-North as being “like a battlefield tent where the cots are all next to each other.” An experienced healthcare administrator sent in three days later to address the crisis described the unit as resembling “a war zone,” with some veterans clothed, some unclothed, and some obviously in the process of dying from COVID-19.

William Bennett, an uncle and attorney for Walsh, did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment. He previously denied wrongdoing on behalf of his client. A Hampden County judge on Monday had reversed Baker’s decision to fire Walsh.

“For several months Superintendent Walsh has been vilified by Governor Baker, [Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders] and others,” Bennett wrote in a statement obtained by WWLP. “I hope that this decision will allow people to consider that perhaps that criticism is unfair and that the actual story of what happened has not yet been understood. A true inquiry into the Covid outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home should focus on the science. Covid has a unique method of transmission. It spreads silently and is transmitted by people who do not appear to be infected. When the disease got into the Soldiers’ Home, where the veterans were already vulnerable because of the living conditions and their age and health, it spread rapidly despite the good faith efforts of the staff.”

Attorneys for David Clinton did not immediately respond to an email from the AP. According to the independent report, the doctor denied being involved or consulted about the decision to combine the dementia wards, and he asserted that he disagreed with it.

“We find this not to be credible, and at the very least, that Dr. Clinton was aware (or should have been aware) of the move and did nothing to stop it,” the authors of the report wrote.

[Screengrab via WCVB]

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