Baker hires private lawyer to probe Holyoke Soldiers’ Home
15 residents have died amid a COVID-19 outbreak
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER hired an independent attorney to investigate what went wrong at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home leading to a COVID-19 outbreak and related deaths.
Baker on Wednesday announced that his office hired former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein to conduct an independent investigation.
According to the governor’s office, the investigation will focus on the events inside the facility that led to the deaths and will look at the management and organizational oversight of the home’s response to COVID-19.
On Monday, Holyoke Soldiers’ Home superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave after 11 residents of the soldiers’ home died, at least five of whom tested positive for COVID-19. Officials at the home apparently did not report the deaths, the first of which occurred Wednesday, to state and local officials until Sunday.
By Wednesday, 15 veterans had died at the Holyoke home, of whom six tested positive for COVID-19, two tests came back negative, one was unknown and six tests were pending. Another 11 veterans and seven staff tested positive for the virus.
On Monday, state officials placed Western Massachusetts Hospital CEO Val Liptak in charge of the home and brought in a team of medical and operational experts to stabilize the home. Staff are now isolating and quarantining ill or exposed residents, identifying who needs medical care onsite and who needs hospitalization, and establishing protocols for safety and infection control.
The National Guard was brought in to help with testing, and as of Wednesday all residents had been tested for COVID-19, with results expected within 24 hours. Efforts to test all staff were ongoing.
Pearlstein is a former federal prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office in Boston. Between 1996 and 2000, he served as First Assistant US Attorney, supervising the civil and criminal divisions of the US Attorney’s office. He is now a partner at McDermott, Will and Emery, where his specialties include internal investigations.
Baker said Pearlstein will investigate “what happened, when it happened, what didn’t happen, when it didn’t happen.” Baker said he will make sure Pearlstein’s team has access to all the people and services they need “to get to the bottom of what took place.”Baker said he expects “a thorough investigation by a trained professional who has an outstanding reputation and will give us what we want – an answer to what happened there and what went wrong and why and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Also Wednesday, the state’s other Soldiers’ Home, in Chelsea, reported its second death of a veteran with COVID-19. Two other residents have tested positive for the virus and one is awaiting test results. Two staff have tested positive and two have test results pending.