Criminal charges surface after deadly outbreak at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home; A look at how we got here

HOLYOKE, Mass. — We were there in July when family and friends said goodbye to air force veteran, Charles Lowell at his funeral in Hardwick.

The pandemic forced them to wait months for this to lay him to rest. Charles was one of 76 veterans who died at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, in early spring, after testing positive for COVID-19.

Holyoke saw one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country.

On Friday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced what may be a first of its kind case in the country.

The home’s two top administrators, the former superintendent Bennet Walsh and medical director David Clinton will face criminal charges because of the decisions they made, namely combining sick and healthy veterans into very close quarters allowing the virus to run wild.

“Hopefully we’re going to see that the changes that we’ve been asking for as part of the coalition for the Soldiers' Home, that those changes get made to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future,” said Susan Kenney, Charles Lowell’s daughter.

Kenney says she’s more focused with happens at the home than in any courtroom. But she called Friday’s announcement a first step.

"Finally. Finally, the two top administrators are getting what they deserve,” said Joe Ramirez, a CNA at the home.

He says he was already home sick with the virus when the administrators ordered units combined.

“I was already out sick with COVID when my coworkers texted me to let me know they were doing that. I was just outraged, I was surprised, I was puzzled.” Ramirez says his colleagues felt they were sending these veterans to their deaths beds.

The AG’s announcement is a haunting reminder of those to whom he never got to say goodbye.

“For me it just brought memories back," Ramirez said. “You know, of the ones that we lost, that we probably didn’t have to.”

“They broke the most basic rule, epidemiology 10,” attorney Thomas Lesser said. “You have people who were infectious. You don’t put them in contact with people who aren’t infectious.”

Lesser is representing more than 20 families of veterans who died in Holyoke in a class action lawsuit. He thinks criminal charges are warranted and only bolster the families' civil claims.

“What precedent does that set,” asked Boston 25 News Anchor Kerry Kavanaugh.

“It’s clear that when someone shows a callous disregard for human life, which is what occurred in this case, there are consequences to be paid,” Lesser said.

A grave mistake that families are fighting to ensure is never repeated.

"The Soldiers' Home, it needs to be continually watched and monitored and make sure these changes are happening to make sure it never happens again, said Kenney.

Lesser says he hopes for a hearing to certify his class action in the next six months.

The Soldiers' Home administrators will be arraigned in Hampden County. We don’t yet know when.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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