I-Team: Lawyer of Soldiers’ Home superintendent says documents show state knew about Covid-19 outbreak

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home took the necessary steps to inform the state about that Covid-19 outbreak inside the facility. That message from Bennett Walsh’s attorney. He said Walsh was in constant communication with state officials.

“That he did indeed request the National Guard and that he fully informed state officials of the circumstances,” said William Bennett, Walsh’s attorney.

Walsh’s attorney outlined a 19 page document that he said proves that his client was in communication with the state from the very beginning of the outbreak. According Bennett, his client Walsh was first informed of a Covid-19 positive veteran on March 21.

Later that night, Walsh notified the Secretary of Veterans’ Services and the next day he filed a ‘critical incident’ report with both Veterans’ Services and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Four days later, on March 25, a veteran suspected of Covid-19 died. State officials were notified by phone.

In that week and into the weekend, several more veterans would die and staff would become infected. Concerned family members would call the 22News I-Team looking for answers. On March 28, the I-Team emailed the Department of Veterans’ Services asking if a veteran had in fact died, and if others were getting sick. We also asked about a tent that was constructed in the facility’s parking lot.

Bennett said, “The response that Channel 22 received however from state officials was incomplete and misleading.”

At the very least it was a canned, generic statement – stating in part that the “Holyoke Soldiers’ Home continues to fulfill its commitment to the safety and wellbeing of its residents… …during a public health crisis.” There was no mention of a death.

Gov. Baker said he and the Lt. Gov. learned of the severity of the situation on Sunday, March 29. That’s the night of that phone call from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

“By 8 o’clock in the morning [the following day] we had the National Guard, interim superintendent and a series of epidemiologists from DPH and eventually folks as well from Holyoke Medical Center who came on to stabilize the operation,” Gov. Baker said.

Walsh’s attorney claims a detailed paper trail proves at the very least state agencies were aware of what was happening. The governor said at least one state investigation in nearing completion, which will most definitely reveal new information.

Bennett made it clear at Tuesday afternoon’s news conference that he’s not just Bennett Walsh’s attorney, he’s also his uncle. Attorney Bennett is also a former Hampden District Attorney.

Meanwhile, the death count continues to climb. New numbers this week; 92 veterans have died,
76 tested positive for Covid-19.

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