Veterans Secretary Francisco Urena resigns

Report will be released soon on COVID-19 outbreak at Soldiers’ Home

SECRETARY OF VETERANS‘ Services Francisco Urena has resigned in advance of the release of a report investigating the coronavirus outbreak at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, according to multiple news reports.

Urena has come under increasing scrutiny for the outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home since last month, when documents released by Superintendent Bennett Walsh’s attorney showed that Urena knew about the veterans who both died and tested positive for COVID-19 immediately – days before Gov. Charlie Baker said he was alerted.

The Massachusetts chapter of Disabled American Veterans told CommonWealth at that time that they believe Urena should be fired.

Baker appointed an independent investigator, Mark Pearlstein, to investigate the outbreak. His report is expected soon.

Urena was appointed as secretary of veterans’ services by Gov. Charlie Baker in January 2015, at the start of Baker’s term. Before that, he held jobs as Boston’s commissioner of veterans’ services and Lawrence’s director of veterans’ services.

He is a veteran who served in the US Marine Corps from 1998 to 2006. According to his LinkedIn profile, Urena earned a bachelor’s degree in history and legal studies from UMass Lowell in 2010, after earning an associate’s degree in political studies from Northern Essex Community College.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Urena does not have experience in health care. WBUR reported in mid-May that the Legislature in 2016 created a new position of executive director of veterans homes and housing, in order to provide oversight of the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes by someone with experience in health care management. But that position was never filled.

Since March 1, 76 veterans who tested positive for COVID-19 have died at the home.