Two former leaders of a Massachusetts veterans care home where at least 76 people died of the coronavirus have been charged in the deadliest known outbreak of the illness at a long-term care facility in the US, the state’s attorney general said Friday.
Former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh, 50, and ex-medical chief David Clinton, 71, were indicted by a grand jury — and each charged with five counts of criminal neglect five counts of serious bodily injury.
“We believe this is the first criminal case in the country brought against those involved in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic,” AG Maura Healey told reporters.
A blistering independent report has found that “utterly baffling” decisions made by Walsh and other administrators allowed the deadly bug to run rampant at the facility.
The “worst decision” was to combine two locked dementia units, both of which already housed some infected residents, according to investigators led by former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein.
Since March 1, 76 veterans who contracted the disease at the home have died, officials said.
The first — who tested positive March 17 — had exhibited symptoms for weeks, though the staff “did nothing to isolate” him until his test came back positive, allowing him to remain with three roommates, roam through the facility and spend time in a common room, investigators found.
When a social worker expressed concerns about combining the two dementia units, the chief nursing officer said “it didn’t matter because (the veterans) were all exposed anyway and there was not enough staff to cover both units,” investigators said.
One worker who helped move the dementia patients told authorities she felt like she was “walking (the veterans) to their death.”
As the disease spread, leadership began “preparing for the deaths of scores of residents,” according to the report.
Walsh has defended his actions, saying state officials initially refused in March to send National Guard aid amid serious staffing shortages at the home.
On March 30, Walsh was placed on administrative leave and Val Liptak, the CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, took over operations.
Walsh was fired after the release of the damning report but a judge invalidated his termination earlier this week after his attorney argued that only the home’s board of trustees has the authority to hire and fire the superintendent.
An attorney for Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Associated Press on Friday. It was not immediately clear whether Clinton has an attorney.
The Massachusetts US Attorney’s Office and US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division also are investigating whether officials violated residents’ rights by failing to provide them adequate medical care.
With Post wires