TB Investigates

Charlie Baker Appointee Bennett Walsh Covered Up COVID 19 Outbreak At Holyoke Veteran’s Home That Killed 6 Residents, Now Collecting Paid Leave 

 

Update: It’s now being reported that 18 are dead at the Hoyloke Soldier’s Home.

Bennett Walsh is a veteran marine who was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to be the superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home for veterans in 2016.

Since then Bennett has donated $1,950 to both Karyn Polito and Charlie Baker.

Walsh is a politically connected hack whose father (Daniel Walsh) was the former Springfield veterans services director, and whose mother (Kateri Walsh) is a Springfield City Councilor.

Although Im sure Bennett Walsh was a fine marine, there’s nothing to suggest that he was qualified to run a home with over 200 residents.

Previous superintendent Paul Barabani and members of the board of trustees quit because the state wasn’t giving them enough financial support.

Walsh officially began the $115,000-a-year job at the end of May. A Marine Corps veteran, Walsh takes the helm of the soldiers’ home at a time of significant leadership changes. Former superintendent Paul Barabani retired in January, claiming that the state was failing to provide sufficient funding for the home. At the same time, the deputy superintendent and chairman of the board of trustees also resigned.

Luckily for Charlie Baker the new management he appointed didn’t complain about such things, and claimed that the home was adequately funded.

Secretary of Veteran Services Francisco Urena called the swearing-in “an exciting day” for the facility. Asked whether the soldiers’ home needs more state money, Urena said, “We’re very pleased with the level of funding…that Gov. Baker has committed to our home.”

Bennett Walsh was praised by both Democratic and Republican elected officials, despite having no experience running a home like this.

Local lawmakers also praised Walsh. “This is someone who’s led Marines in combat in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be prouder with the governor’s and the trustees’ selection,” said State Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, a U.S. Army Reserves captain.

State Sen. Don Humason, R-Westfield, said he thinks Walsh “will be that fierce advocate that we need to protect the soldiers’ home.” “Bennett has that right local feeling, being a Springfield kid… He will make sure that it retains its unique character as a Western Massachusetts entity, although it serves veterans from across the state,” Humason said.

Bennett Walsh’s entire list of qualifications seem to be that he was a “local kid”, his Mommy and Daddy were well known political hacks, and he didn’t bother the governor like the guy before him.

This week it was revealed that the home had covered up the deaths of at least six veterans from the COVID 19, and the infection of even more veterans by not adhering to the guidelines. The first veteran tested positive on March 21. Baker was not alerted about it until March 29, after Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse found out through the grapevine that multiple people had died. The testimonials coming from people who work there are disturbing and have been documented by the Hampshire Gazette:

One Soldiers’ Home CNA said management allowed the first veteran awaiting his COVID-19 test result to mingle in common areas with two dozen other veterans. After he tested positive, the veteran’s roommates were moved to rooms with other residents instead of being isolated in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that CNA said.

The CNA also alleged that management did not provide employees with personal protective equipment, or PPE, when they were interacting with the patient awaiting coronavirus test results. And after the patient tested positive for COVID-19, management did not direct those employees to self-isolate.

“We were not allowed to wear proper PPE, the N95, until somebody was positive,” the second CNA said, referring to the masks used in most hospital settings when interacting with potentially contagious patients.

As employees became sick, other staffers who were still able to work had to float from unit to unit to make up for the absences, risking spreading the virus further, the first CNA said.

The first CNA said Walsh created a threatening environment in the building for workers, saying over the intercom that those using COVID-19 as an excuse to stay home from work would be disciplined.

“There’s no staff, and some people are being mandated to work 16-hour shifts because there’s nobody to cover, and these people don’t have a choice,” the first CNA said. “You can refuse to work, but you get suspended … So people are kind of stuck between, ‘Do I work in unsafe conditions, or do I keep my job?’”

Eventually, the CNA said, so many employees had called out of work with COVID-19 symptoms that Soldiers’ Home higher-ups decided to combine the facility’s two dementia units, packing residents into even closer quarters.

“They took all the veterans from the floor on the top and combined them with the veterans downstairs, where the original illness began,” said the CNA. “All they’re doing is creating a big petri dish with all of these gentlemen getting this virus.”

Those accounts were separately confirmed by the second CNA, who said that staffing has always been thin at the Soldiers’ Home and was made even worse by the pandemic.

“They’ve spread out veterans so now we have six beds in rooms that normally had three or four beds,” the second CNA said. “So forget about social distancing — they’re all on top of one another.”

The second CNA said that employees voicing concerns about developing symptoms after being exposed — without PPE — to possibly contagious patients were told by managers that they could have simply caught the virus “at the grocery store.” The CNA added that workers are now being required to use their sick time while awaiting test results.

“I lost four (veterans) in one day,” the second CNA said. “And I just needed to go and cry because it’s not OK.”

While young people are being forcefully kept from their jobs, and business owners are losing their livelihoods, this home allowed the elderly to intermingle for weeks. They did the exact opposite of what the rest of us are being forced to do, and they did it with a population that was much more vulnerable.

According to Masslive family members had no idea any of this was happening and were not alerted to it by the home.

“I was shocked on the phone call when the superintendent let me know that there had been eight veteran deaths between Wednesday and Sunday without any public notice, without any notification to our office and no notification to the state government that oversees the facility in the first place,” he said. “There was a clear lack of urgency on that phone call. We were repeatedly told these were people who had underlying health conditions.”

Morse said that a subsequent phone call with Walsh and state Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Francisco Ureña left him “disappointed in the lack of urgency or action.”
The mere fact that a culture of intimidation exists in which employees are afraid to advocate for their patients in a life and death scenario, should be grounds for the termination of Bennett Walsh. He is he captain of the ship. You don’t let six veterans die under your watch and keep your job. But instead of holding himself accountable he’s claiming he did nothing wrong.

“At no time did I, or anyone on my staff, hide, conceal or mislead anyone regarding the tragic impact of the virus and it would be outrageous for anyone to even think of doing such a thing.”

He didn’t hide anything? Governor Baker didn’t find out until eight days after the first resident was tested positive. He runs a building full of people who are most likely to contract and died from the disease, and not only did he fail to report to the governor, he allowed it to spread all over his facility by not following social distancing guidelines. Meanwhile I’m afraid to invite my mother over to see her grandkids because I might get narced on by the Facebook police.

According to family members of residents who live there they really weren’t told much besides the fact that one resident who tested positive was put into isolation.

“You hoped for the best and you prayed,” Turgeon said of her reaction to the letter. “At no time did we know it was as serious as what was going on.”

Like Twining, she said she only learned about the extent of the crisis — including the deaths — through news reports on Monday. Turgeon said she was “floored” because she had been in daily phone contact with her father via staff at the facility.

Twining said that for two weeks she scoured social media for hints of what was happening at the facility. She learned about the outbreak through news reports on Monday.

“All last week I tried to get a hold of the nurses, the social workers, and nobody would return my call,” she said. “I think that they’re not allowed to tell the public anything.”

So basically they were told that one resident tested positive and had been put in isolation, which gave them the impression that everything was under control. But they weren’t informed that residents who had come in contact with him were spreading the disease all over the facility, no one was made aware of any of this (including the governor), and now six veterans are dead.

Bennett Walsh is now on paid administrative leave, cashing the checks from his $122K salary, while he is being investigated. Meawhile, millions of Americans have lost their jobs because of this disease, but the guy who screwed up and let a bunch of veterans die gets to sit at home and collect a paycheck. Did Bennett Walsh mean to kill these people? Of course not. But you don’t have to commit a crime to be fired from your job. 

Bennett Walsh is just the latest in a long list of controversial people who Charlie Baker has advocated for. Let’s not forget, Baker still has not renounced his endorsement of Luke Noble for North Andover Selectmen, despite the fact that Noble was caught on video verbally abusing his daughter, and was credibly accused by that same daughter, her pediatrician, and her therapist of sexual abuse.

He also refused to discipline his friend Dan Bennett for his role in Troopergate, nor has he done anything to Stephanie Pollack for her role in allowing seven bikers to be killed by a man whose license she had the power to revoke in June.

Charlie Baker must answer for this, but which mainstream media outlet has the guts to ask the right questions? Bennett Walsh didn’t appoint himself. Charlie Baker did.

 

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