2 Ex-Officials at Veterans Home Where 76 Died in Covid Outbreak Avoid Jail Time

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Two former officials at a Massachusetts veterans’ home where at least 76 people died during a coronavirus outbreak in 2020 won’t have to serve any jail time under a court order imposed by a state judge on Tuesday, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

The two — Bennett Walsh, the former superintendent at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Mass., and Dr. David Clinton, the former medical director there — were each indicted in September 2020 on five criminal counts of neglect, the attorney general’s office said.

The charges were centered on a decision by the facility in March 2020 to consolidate two dementia units into one, which led to the “mingling” of residents who had contracted the coronavirus with others, the attorney general’s office said when the indictment was announced.

The move to consolidate the units happened in the early days of the pandemic as many were just beginning to learn how the coronavirus spread. What followed was an outbreak that led to the deaths of at least 76 people at the facility.

At a hearing on Tuesday afternoon at the Hampshire County Superior Court in Northampton, Mass., the attorney general’s office asked that Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton be sentenced to one year of home confinement, with three years of probation.

Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton asked the court for a continuance without a finding, meaning that they would admit that there was enough evidence to find them guilty, according to the attorney general’s office.

Judge Edward J. McDonough accepted the recommendations from Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton. As part of the court order, which will last three months, the two men must not work in a nursing home, contact the families of the victims or enter the veterans’ home without permission, according to the attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell of Massachusetts said in a statement on Tuesday that 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,” she said. “We will continue to be vigilant in prosecuting cases of elder abuse and neglect.”

Lawyers for Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday evening. Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton did not speak to reporters as they left the courthouse on Tuesday.

Susan Kenney, the daughter of a veteran who died at the facility during the outbreak, told the television station WBTS on Tuesday that the families of those who had died there were “the ones who got the life sentence.”

“They deserve way better care than they received there,” Ms. Kenney told the TV station. “They did not die with honor and dignity.”

The criminal neglect charges against Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton were initially dismissed by a judge in November 2021, but the state attorney general’s office appealed the decision, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the charges in 2023.

In 2022, the state of Massachusetts agreed to pay $56 million to families of those whose deaths had been linked to the coronavirus outbreak at the facility. That settlement, in a federal class-action lawsuit, came after a report that detailed what workers at the facility described as “chaos” as residents were becoming sick.

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