Judge Drops Charges Over Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak at Veterans Home in Massachusetts – Community News
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Judge Drops Charges Over Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak at Veterans Home in Massachusetts

BOSTON, Nov. 22 (Reuters) – A Massachusetts judge Monday dismissed charges against two former veterans home leaders charged with criminal neglect for their roles in handling a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 people.

The criminal case against former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former medical director David Clinton was believed to be the first in the nation linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at a US nursing facility.

The outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home, a 247-bed state-run facility in Holyoke that provides health care, nursing and other services to veterans, was one of the deadliest in a U.S. nursing home.

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Michael Jennings, Walsh’s attorney, said he was “certainly pleased that the judge agreed with our arguments”, while noting that the case was not over as the state could appeal.

The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, which filed the charges, is evaluating options, spokesman Jillian Fennimore said.

“We are very disappointed with today’s ruling, especially on behalf of the innocent victims and families who have been harmed by the actions of the defendants,” she said.

The case arose from a March 2020 decision to consolidate two dementia units, which Healey said would bring COVID-19-positive residents within the footsteps of those without symptoms.

Walsh and Clinton were charged in September 2020 with five counts of neglect by the elderly and five counts of admitting serious bodily harm to an elderly person.

Those charges related to five specific veterans who, according to Justice Edward McDonough in the Hampden County Supreme Court, had been exposed to COVID-19 before the merger.

“Insufficient reasonably reliable evidence had been presented to the grand jury that had these two dementia units not been merged, the medical condition of these five veterans would have been materially different,” McDonough wrote.

He said Walsh and Clinton also did not meet the definition of “caregivers” under the Elder Abuse Act.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Grebler

Nate Raymond

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at [email protected]