The Massachusetts attorney general is pressing criminal charges against two officials for a “deadly” decision that led to a Covid-19 outbreak in a veterans’ health care facility.
Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton, the facility’s former medical director, are facing felony charges over their decision to combine veterans who were exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms with others not showing any sign of the virus into a single unit.
The attorney general’s office also alleges some veterans were marked as being asymptomatic but were actually showing symptoms related to the virus, and still mixed with others who were actually asymptomatic.
“The residents thought to be asymptomatic were placed in nine beds in the dining room,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in her announcement on Friday, adding that they were in fact showing symptoms consistent with the virus “at the time of the consolidation or shortly thereafter.”
These decisions, Healey claimed, led to “deadly results.” Since March, 76 veterans at the home have died from Covid-19.
The charges include multiple counts of serious bodily injury, each of which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The bodily injury charges are related to soldiers who were asymptomatic before being put into units with Covid-positive cases, and who later died from the virus.
“We allege that this never should have happened. It never should have happened from an infection control standpoint,” Healey said. “This is a decision that put veterans who are asymptomatic at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 at a higher risk of death.”
Superintendent Walsh was previously fired by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration after an independent investigation found his decisions about housing veterans and combining certain units to be “baffling” and determined he should not be running such an institution. A judge, however, ruled this week that the administration had no authority to fire Walsh.
Walsh’s lawyer has argued that neither the superintendent nor any staff could have prevented the virus from entering the facility or spreading there once it had arrived.
The attorney general revealed in her announcement more officials could be facing charges, as “a number of other facilities across the state” are being investigated over high Covid-19 death and infection rates.
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