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Holyoke Soldiers’ Home: Two Charged with Covid-19 Deaths

Two former Massachusetts veterans home leaders were charged with neglect related to a coronavirus outbreak that resulted in the deaths of at least 76 residents, the attorney general said on Friday.

Bennett Walsh (50) and Dr. David Clinton, 71, was charged Thursday by a state grand jury for her work at the facility, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Mr. Walsh was the facility’s superintendent, and Dr. Clinton its medical director.

“We believe this is the first criminal case in the country against those involved in nursing homes during the Covid-1

9 pandemic,” Attorney General Maura Healey said at a news conference on Friday. The men will face criminal charges and if convicted they could spend years or even decades in prison, she added.

“We claim that these defendants’ actions at the facility during the Covid-19 outbreak increase the risk of infection and veteran death and warrant criminal charges,” she said in a statement.

Each man was charged on five counts on two charges; The specific charges concerned caretakers who “willfully or recklessly” allow or cause physical harm and abuse, neglect or mistreatment of an elderly or disabled person. The criminal neglect charge has a term of up to three years and the grievous bodily harm charge has a term of up to ten years for each count, Ms. Healey said.

Mr. Walsh’s attorney, Tracy A. Miner, said in an email that he intends to plead not guilty.

“It is unfortunate that the attorney general is blaming the effects of a deadly virus that our state and federal governments could not stop Bennett Walsh,” she said. Mr. Walsh, she added, “was on the front lines trying his best to help the Holyoke Soldiers Home veterans, including asking for help from state officials and the National Guard who arrived far too late.”

A lawyer for Dr. Clinton could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Holyoke Soldier’s Home, a government facility that provides health care, hospice care and other support to veterans, has been under investigation since early April when the Attorney General’s Office learned of “serious problems with Covid-19 infection” control procedures. ”

By then, authorities became increasingly concerned about the facility, which sheltered frail veterans of World War II and other conflicts. Eight veterans had died within five days, others had contracted the coronavirus, and employees also got sick. The flags in Holyoke, a city of 40,000 people more than 90 miles west of Boston, have been lowered to half the staff.

Investigators focused on what happened in late March when staff combined two dementia departments with infected Veterans and healthy residents “increase the exposure of asymptomatic veterans to the virus,” the attorney general said.

Due to the staff shortage, the facility consolidated the units with a total of 42 residents with different Covid-19 status. Residents who were positive or symptomatic were placed six times in a room that usually housed four veterans.

Residents believed to be asymptomatic were placed in nine beds in the dining room, “a few feet apart,” and next to the room where the infected patients were, it said.

A staff member at the facility told investigators that the decision to merge wards “was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” according to a report released months later.

“Residents of the consolidated unit reportedly mingled regardless of Covid-19 status,” the office said, adding that the decision was inconsiderate from an infection control perspective and the asymptomatic veterans were at an “increased risk of getting Covid-19 to get” . ”

In June, investigators released a 174-page report depicting a facility in chaos, the decision to combine overcrowded wards, and the conditions described in nightmarish terms. Not only did the report catalog a number of flaws in protecting residents, it also cited people who worked at the facility, including one who said that “it felt like we were moving the concentration camp, we have these ignorant veterans for us.” To die “.

The office announced that Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton who were not in custody would be tried in the Hampden County Supreme Court without specifying a date. Dr. Clinton resigned after the investigation report was published and Mr Walsh was given administrative leave on March 30th.

Nursing homes home to populations at high risk for the coronavirus have suffered throughout the pandemic and about 40 percent of coronavirus cases in the United States have been linked to them. At least 77,000 residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults have died from the virus nationwide, according to a database from the New York Times.

The severity of the nursing home outbreaks has been scrutinizing the officials who administer them in several states. In August, the Justice Department announced it had requested Covid-19 data from states that have issued orders “that may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”

The department found that in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, nursing homes are needed to “add Covid-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing.”

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