Criminal charges announced for two former leaders at Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 deaths

Massachusetts News

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – State Attorney General Maura Healey announced that two former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home leaders are now facing criminal charges following the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former Medical Director Dr. David Clinton are each facing 10 charges. They were indicted by a grand jury following an investigation by Attorney General Maura Healey.

Both Clinton and Walsh are facing five counts each of criminal neglect and five counts each of causing or permitting serious bodily injury to an elder.

“They were the ultimate decision-makers,” Healey said. “They were ultimately responsible for the deadly decision to consolidate these two units.”

These charges are based on five veterans who were allegedly moved into dining room when the outbreak began. Healey said they were all asymptomatic when they were moved, and this decision allowed the virus to spread.

Of the five, three of them contracted COVID-19, and one died.

Walsh’s Attorney William Bennett maintains that Walsh followed all reporting guidelines and was in constant contact with the state. He told 22News back in July that the decision to move the veterans quote “had no impact on the spread of the virus.”

An independent investigation released in June found that Superintendent Walsh wasn’t qualified to manage a long-term care facility. Governor Baker tried to fire Walsh, but a judge just ruled that he does not have the authority to do that, only the board of trustees can do that.

The board of trustees will meet again next week to decide Walsh’s fate.

22News has reached out to Walsh’s lawyer for a comment on the charges and received the following statement from Walsh’s Attorney William Bennett:

“It is unfortunate that the Attorney General is blaming the effects of a deadly virus that our state and federal governments have not been able to stop on Bennett Walsh Mr. Walsh has spent his entire life in the service of our country, first in the Marine Corps for 28 years and then serving other veterans as the Superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers Home.  He, like other nursing home administrators throughout the Commonwealth and nation, could not prevent the virus, which can be spread be asymptomatic carriers, from coming to the Home or stop its spread once it arrived there.  At all times, Mr. Bennett followed state guidance and relied on the medical professionals to do what was best for the veterans given the tragic circumstances of a virus in a home with veterans in close quarters, severe staffing shortages, and the lack of outside help from state officials.  If the Attorney General, who like Mr. Walsh is not a medical professional and unlike Mr. Walsh is not a veteran, could have stopped the spread of the virus, which has now killed over 8,000 people in the Commonwealth, she should have done so.  She should not be scapegoating Mr. Walsh who was on the front lines trying his best to do whatever he could to help the Veterans of the Holyoke Soldiers Home, including asking for help from state officials and the National Guard, which arrived much too late.”

Healey described this as the first case in the country involving criminal charges linked to long-term care facility deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healey also said that her office has active investigations into multiple facilities across the state, where there were COVID-19 outbreaks.

She did not go into any detail about what facilities are under investigation.

VIDEO: News Conference from State Attorney General Maura Healey

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