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Following charges in Holyoke veterans' home case, Mass. AG says other long-term care facilities are under scrutiny

The Holyoke, Mass. Soldiers' Home.

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By STEPHANIE BARRY | The Republican, Springfield, Mass. | Published: September 26, 2020

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — On the day she announced criminal charges against top officials of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Attorney General Maura Healey said her office is also scrutinizing other long-term care facilities.

“We have an array of criminal and civil options in our office. More to come,” Healey said during an interview with The Republican late Friday afternoon.

The attorney general’s office announced criminal neglect charges against Holyoke Soldiers' Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton, the facility’s former top medical adviser.

Both face five counts each of two charges: caretaker who wantonly or recklessly commits or permits bodily injury to an elder or disabled person, and a similarly worded charge pertaining to the alleged “abuse, neglect or mistreatment” of an elderly or disabled person.

Walsh, 50, and Clinton, 71, were indicted by a statewide grand jury sitting in Boston on Thursday afternoon.

Healey said building a case and arriving at the charges to present to the grand jury was a laborious, deliberate process.

“This was a very thoughtful process. We interviewed over 150 witnesses and reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents. Looking at the elements, looking at the evidence, these are the charges we believe are appropriate ... and these are serious felony charges. The bodily injury charge carries a 10-year prison sentence and the other charge carries a three-year prison sentence,” she said.

At least 76 veterans died of COVID-19 when the outbreak hit the state-run facility for veterans beginning in March. More were sickened, along with dozens of staff members — including Walsh.

The virus has been particularly devastating in long-term care facilities, with 6,019 deaths as of Sept. 25, according to the state Department of Public Health.

In total, COVID-19 has caused 9,160 deaths across the state, showing 65.7% of all coronavirus deaths have been in long-term care facilities. Meanwhile, 383 facilities have had at least one probable or confirmed case, the data show.

In addition, 24,828 residents or workers in long-term care facilities have had confirmed or probable cases — 19.5% of the state’s 127,317 confirmed cases.

An attorney for Walsh on Friday said Healey’s office was scapegoating him for the tragedy at the Soldiers' Home. Healey said it was her obligation to investigate the case.

“These are the decision-makers — the ultimate decision-makers — who had the responsibility for making the decisions that put these veterans in harm’s way,” Healey said. “I stand behind the charges that have been brought in this case.

She also said it is her office’s responsibility to protect the vulnerable.

“Part of my obligation as an AG is to make sure we are protecting the most vulnerable among us ... whether it’s standing up for workers' rights, whether it’s standing up for civil rights or looking after seniors in a health care facility,” Healey said. “I had both a strong legal and ethical obligation to immediately open an investigation and figure out how these veterans died in such tragic circumstances.”

An attorney for Clinton did not respond to a request for comment.

Both defendants will be arraigned in Hampden Superior Court at a later date, Healey said.

“This is about pursuing justice and pursuing accountability for those victims and those family members,” she added. “I’m grateful for the team from my office and all the hard work they’ve put into this.”

Editor Greg Saulmon contributed to this report.

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