2 former Massachusetts VA leaders criminally charged amid probe into COVID-19 outbreak

The former superintendent and medical director of Soldiers' Home in Holyoke (Mass.) are each facing 10 criminal charges tied to a facility COVID-19 outbreak in which at least 76 veterans died, reports The Boston Globe. 

Former Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former Medical Director David Clinton, MD, were indicted Sept. 24, though neither has been taken into custody, state Attorney General Maura Healey said Sept. 26. Ms. Healey said the case is believed to be the first U.S. prosecution linked to an outbreak at a nursing home, though more state probes are ongoing. Ms. Healey said Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton were charged because "they were the ultimate decision-makers" regarding the outbreak response. 

In April, prosecutors launched a probe into the home's infection control procedures, according to Ms. Healey's office. The investigation found that on March 27, the leaders decided to consolidate two dementia units into one, which led to symptomatic, asymptomatic and confirmed positive veterans being "within feet of each other." The move meant 40 veterans stayed in a space designed for 25 people.

Such decisions 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," the attorney general's office alleges. 

Dr. Clinton resigned in the aftermath of a 174-page report detailing the home's conditions, and Mr. Walsh was placed on administrative leave March 30, according to The New York Times.

"It is unfortunate that the Attorney General is blaming the effects of a deadly virus that our state and federal governments have not been able to stop on Bennett Walsh," Tracy Miner, Mr. Walsh's attorney, said Sept. 26. "He, like other nursing home administrators throughout the Commonwealth and nation, could not prevent the virus from coming to the home or stop its spread once it arrived there." 

Ms. Miner said her client relied on the advice of medical professionals when making decisions. 

Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton each face five counts alleging wanton or reckless bodily injury to an elderly or disabled person, along with five counts each alleging they committed or allowed abuse, neglect, or mistreatment to an elderly or disabled person.

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