Ex-officials of Massachusetts veterans’ home with deadly COVID outbreak avoid prison

March 27, 2024

Two former officials of a veterans’ nursing home in Massachusetts that had a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 settled their cases Tuesday to avoid prison, according to the state attorney general.

Bennett Walsh, the former superintendent of Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and David Clinton, the former medical director at the home, were facing five charges of neglect over the deadly outbreak of COVID-19 that killed at least 76 people in 2020. At a hearing in the Hampshire Superior Court on Tuesday, the state attorney general’s office said they each withdrew their previous not guilty pleas.

State prosecutors asked the court for Walsh and Clinton to be sentenced to one year of home confinement and three years of probation. Both Walsh and Clinton asked the judge for a continuance without a finding, which means they would each admit that there were enough facts to find them guilty of the charges.

The judge accepted Walsh’s and Clinton’s requests and ordered that neither of them must work in a nursing home, initiate any contact with the families of the victims, and not be present at the home without permission, according to the Massachusetts’ attorney general office.

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell criticized the judge’s decision in a statement.

“Today the justice system failed the families who lost their loved ones at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. I am disappointed and disheartened with the Court’s decision, and want these families and our veterans to know my office did everything it could to seek accountability. We will continue to be vigilant in prosecuting cases of elder abuse and neglect.”

They both pleaded not guilty in 2020 to the charges that were related to their decision to combine two dementia units at the long-term facility — one unit that had positive cases and the other that had no symptoms. The case was later dismissed by Hampden Superior Court Judge Edward McDonough, but the state attorney’s general office filed an appeal on the decision in 2021.

Massachusetts highest court reinstituted the charges last year, The Associated Press reported.

A 2022 report on the veterans’ home that covered 2016 to 2020 found that Walsh lacked the leadership skills required to be the superintendent of the facility. The AP noted that he did not have experience in a health care facility or nursing home before being hired, but that experience was not needed at the time under state law.

The Associated Press contributed.