Criminal Charges Filed After Deaths of 76 at Veterans' Facility

Mass. AG: Former officials Bennett Walsh, David Clinton made 'deadly decision' that caused deaths
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2020 1:37 PM CDT
Criminal Charges Filed After Deaths of 76 at Veterans' Facility
This May 2018 file photo shows an aerial view of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, in Holyoke, Mass.   (Don Treeger/The Republican, File)

Two former officials at a Massachusetts veterans home have been hit with criminal charges after dozens died there during a COVID-19 outbreak. NBC Boston and CBS Boston report that Bennett Walsh, 50, the facility's former superintendent, and 71-year-old David Clinton, who served as the facility's medical director, are facing five counts each of criminal neglect, plus another five counts of serious bodily injuries, for what Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey calls a "deadly decision" made on March 27 at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. That decision, due to staffing shortages, per the New York Times: to consolidate 42 veterans from two dementia wards into a space made for 25. At least 76 residents died of the virus during the outbreak—said to be one of the deadliest outbreaks at a US long-term care facility. Dozens of other residents and workers were infected.

Infected residents or those showing symptoms were placed six to a room that usually held four. Residents said to be without symptoms (though Healey says some of them actually did have symptoms) were moved to a dining room, where their beds were said to have been just a few feet apart from each other; they also mingled with infected residents in the room next door. Three of the supposedly asymptomatic residents caught the virus, one of whom died. The Times cites an investigators' report released in June "that depicted a facility in chaos." Of Walsh and Clinton's decision to consolidate the veterans into one space, one worker told investigators it was "the most insane thing I ever saw in my entire life." Walsh was placed on administrative leave on March 30; Clinton resigned after the report came out. Healey notes this is the first criminal case regarding the pandemic involving US nursing home officials. Both men will be arraigned at a later date and could face multiyear prison sentences. (Read more veterans stories.)

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