Two Former Nursing Home Leaders Charged with Criminal Neglect in Wake of 76 COVID-19 Deaths

A grand jury in Massachusetts indicted a pair of former nursing home leaders on criminal neglect charges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York Times, among other outlets, initially reported the news Friday.

Bennett Walsh and David Clinton face five counts apiece in the wake of 76 coronavirus deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, a state-run nursing facility for veterans in its namesake Western Massachusetts town.

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“We began this investigation on behalf of the families who lost loved ones under tragic circumstances and to honor these men who bravely served our country,” state attorney general Maura Healey said in a statement. “We allege that the actions of these defendants during the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility put veterans at higher risk of infection and death and warrant criminal charges.”

The charges center on claims that employees “wanton or recklessly” either allowed or caused injury, neglect, or abuse of a disabled or older person.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home has been under a state investigation since April, with a particular focus on a decision combine a pair of dementia ward — a plan that ended up commingling residents who were positive and negative for COVID-19. Healey’s office determined that up to six residents were moved into rooms designed for at most four people.

“The AG’s office alleges that these decisions, which were ultimately the responsibility of Walsh and Clinton, were reckless and increased the likelihood that asymptomatic veterans at SHH would contract COVID-19 and put them at higher risk of death and harm,” Healey’s office observed in a statement.

A lawyer for Walsh told the Times that her client would plead not guilty, calling the charges “unfortunate” and claiming that he asked for help from the state and the National Guard only for assistance to arrive “much too late.” The paper as of Friday had not located an attorney for Clinton.

The criminal indictments mark a new front in the government response to claims of improper care at nursing facilities during COVID-19, which thus far has mostly taken the form of fines and lawsuits. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), for instance, has handed out $15 million in fines related to infection control deficiencies and failure to report COVID-19 data.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home features 247 long-term nursing beds, along with hospice care and therapy services.