(Reuters) – Two people were indicted for their alleged role in a COVID-19 outbreak at a Massachusetts veterans’ home that contributed to the deaths of at least 76 residents, the state’s attorney general announced on Friday.
A grand jury on Thursday indicted superintendent Bennett Walsh and David Clinton, the former medical director of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, on charges of criminal neglect related to their work at the facility.
“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,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
Healey said the charges stem from the two individuals’ roles in decision-making on March 27 at the home that led to the consolidation of two dementia units into one.
The move, which was prompted by staffing shortages, placed symptomatic residents, including some who had tested positive for the coronavirus, and asymptomatic residents in close proximity, “increasing the exposure of asymptomatic veterans to the virus,” officials said.
“We believe this is the first criminal case in the country brought against those involved in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Healey told a news conference.
In the United States and worldwide, nursing homes, filled with elderly residents who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, have suffered a harrowing toll in the pandemic.
Authorities began their investigation into the Soldiers’ Home, a 247-bed, state-run facility that provides healthcare, hospice care, nursing and other services to veterans, in April after learning of “serious issues” with infection control procedures.
Walsh and Clinton were each indicted on five counts for “wantonly or recklessly” committing or permitting bodily injury and abuse, neglect or mistreatment of an elderly or disabled person.
“They risked their lives from the beaches of Normandy to some, the jungles of Vietnam,” Healey said. “And to know that they died under the most horrific of circumstances is truly shocking.”
Reuters could not immediately reach lawyers for Walsh and Clinton.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)
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