State AG appeals Holyoke Soldiers’ Home case dismissal

  • Former superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Bennett Walsh, right, listens to testimony while sitting next to his attorney, William Bennett, during a hearing on Aug. 24 in Hampden Superior Court. THE REPUBLICAN VIA AP/DON TREEGER

Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2021

HOLYOKE — The state’s attorney general has announced her intention to appeal a judge’s decision last month to dismiss criminal charges against two former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home officials who led the facility during a deadly COVID-19 outbreak last year.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Attorney General Maura Healey said she will appeal Judge Edward McDonough Jr.’s ruling that there was “insufficient reasonably trustworthy evidence” against Bennett Walsh, the former Soldiers’ Home superintendent, and Dr. David Clinton, the facility’s former medical director.

Both had been indicted on criminal neglect charges brought by Healey over their actions during the massive outbreak, which killed at least 76 veteran residents.

“The tragic loss of life at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home broke the promise that our commonwealth would honor these men who bravely served our country,” Healey said in a statement.

“We are filing this notice of appeal today to pursue accountability on behalf of their loved ones and communities.”

Jeffrey Pyle, an attorney representing Clinton, declined to comment Tuesday. So too did Walsh’s attorney, William Bennett.

“We are going to reserve comment until the record has been assembled and reviewed,” Bennett said.

With Healey filing a notice of appeal, the case will now head to the Appeals Court for a formal appeal to be entered. That will happen once the full record is assembled, Healey’s office said, including court filings and transcripts.

A grand jury indicted Clinton and Walsh in September 2020 based largely on a decision made early in the outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home to combine two dementia units after many employees had called out of work with COVID-19 symptoms at the 247-bed facility. That decision packed residents into even tighter quarters than usual — a choice that a state-commissioned independent investigation released in June described as a “catastrophe,” resulting in “the opposite of infection control.”

In her announcement of an appeal, Healey reiterated that point, saying that coronavirus-positive and symptomatic residents had been placed together with asymptomatic residents.

“The AG’s Office alleged that this decision, which Walsh and Clinton authorized, was reckless and created a substantial likelihood that the asymptomatic veterans at SHH would contract COVID-19, and put them at higher risk of harm, including death,” the announcement said.

But in his Nov. 22 ruling, McDonough found that there was no evidence that any of the five veterans named in the case contracted the coronavirus as a result of that unit merger.

“The five named veterans were already exposed to COVID-19 before the dementia unit merger ever occurred,” McDonough wrote. “There was insufficient reasonably trustworthy evidence presented to the grand jury that, had these two dementia units not been merged, the medical condition of any of these five veterans would have been materially different.”

The case is being prosecuted by Healey’s Medicaid Fraud Division.