• A state investigation of the deaths called the officials actions "utterly baffling"
  • Patients with COVID-19 symptoms were packed six to a room
  • Asymptomic patients mingled with their infected cohorts, upping the risk of infection

Two former officials of a Massachusetts nursing home where 76 elderly veterans died of COVID-19 were indicted on criminal charges for putting the home’s residents for acting “wantonly and recklessly” at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in what is believed the first case holding nursing home officials responsible.

State Attorney General Maura Healey said the actions of former superintendent Bennett Walsh, 50, of Springfield, and former medical director David Clinton, 71, led to bodily injury, abuse or neglect to an elderly or disabled person at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Each man faces five counts.

“Today I am announcing criminal charges,” Healey told a news conference. “The charges stem from their alleged role at the Holyoke Soldiers Home.” The charges follow by three months a report that called their actions “utterly baffling from an infection control perspective.”

Neither man was in custody, and an arraignment date had yet to be set. The indictment was handed down Thursday.

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home deaths represent nearly 10% of all coronavirus deaths in Hampden County. The area has reported 8,098 confirmed cases with 774 COVID-19 deaths. Statewide there have been 126,863 confirmed cases and 9,150 deaths.

“We began this investigation on behalf of the families who lost loved ones under tragic circumstances and to honor these men who bravely served our country,” Healey said in a press release Friday. “We allege that the actions of these defendants during the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility put veterans at higher risk of infection and death and warrant criminal charges.”

The investigation was opened in April. The home’s staff on March 27 consolidated two dementia wards where COVID-19 was prevalent because of staffing shortages, combining infected patients with residents who were without symptoms. Those exhibiting symptoms or who tested positive for the virus were placed six to a room, the indictment said. The rooms normally held four residents.

Nine asymptomatic individuals were given beds in a dining hall just a few feet apart and near a room containing infected patients, the indictment said.

“The residents in the consolidated unit were allegedly mingling together, regardless of COVID-19 status,” the attorney general’s office said, increasing the risk of contracting the virus.