/Suspended superintendent at Holyoke Soldiers Home did not keep officials in the dark, attorney says

Suspended superintendent at Holyoke Soldiers Home did not keep officials in the dark, attorney says

ABC News Corona Virus Government. Response

Bennett Walsh’s request for help for the facility was denied, says his attorney.

The superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, a state-run facility where more than 90 veteran residents have died in the coronavirus pandemic, did not keep anyone “in the dark” about the growing crisis inside, according to his attorney.

Attorney William Bennett repeatedly insisted on Tuesday that suspended Superintendent Bennett Walsh took several steps to notify state and local officials about the growing rate of COVID-19 infections among veterans.

But Bennett said Walsh’s requests for medical assistance for the facility were denied.

Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave on March 30 after state officials visited the facility.

“For anyone to suggest that he covered up, concealed or tried to hide a public health crisis, affecting the veterans he was committed to serve, is a slander of his good name,” Bennett said.

Bennett is Walsh’s uncle and the former Hampden County district attorney.

As of Tuesday, 92 veteran residents have died during the pandemic, nearly 40 percent of the veterans who were residing in the facility when the virus first struck the home in March, according to the state’s Office of Health and Human Services. Seventy-six of the deceased residents tested positive for COVID-19, 15 tested negative, and one death remains unknown, according to the office.

An additional 75 veteran residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the office.

Questions as to what went wrong inside the facility are being probed in four separate investigations, including an independent investigation ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker and a federal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Baker said Tuesday the independent investigation should be completed soon.

Employees had previously told ABC News that a failure in leadership was part of the reason for the haphazard response to the virus.

At a press conference Tuesday, Bennett displayed several documents that he said showed the steps Walsh took to keep state and local officials informed of the situation.

Walsh was first informed on March 21 about one of the veterans testing positive, and he informed the Secretary of Veteran’s Services on the same day, according to Bennett. The next day, other state officials were notified through a Critical Incident Report, Bennett said.

After more veterans tested positive in the following days, and one veteran suspected of having COVID-19 died, Bennett said Walsh realized that additional help was needed. Walsh then requested medical assistance from the National Guard, according to Bennett.

“By March 27, the crisis caused by the coronavirus had erupted at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home,” Bennett said. Yet later that same afternoon, Walsh was informed that his request for National Guard assistance was denied, according to Bennett.

Bennett claimed that state officials told Walsh that he was “prohibited” from issuing public comments without prior approval, and were “livid” that Walsh had spoken to local officials about the outbreak. He went on to claim that a conversation between Walsh and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse triggered an “unusually heated response” from the superintendent’s superiors, which he believes led to Walsh’s suspension.

Walsh referred ABC News to Bennett for comment.

A statement released by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which has been leading the governor’s response to the Soldiers’ Home deaths, didn’t directly address any of the allegations made by Bennett, but cited the governor’s ongoing investigation.

“The tragic situation at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is a reminder of the insidious nature of COVID-19, a virus that is having a devastating impact in our communities and long-term care facilities,” the statement said. “The circumstances that led to the heartbreaking situation at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home — including management and oversight — are the subject of a full and impartial investigation ordered by the Governor, led by Attorney Mark Pearlstein.”

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