Inspector General releases new report into Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

Inspector General releases new report into Holyoke Soldiers' Home
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 10:52 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) -State officials have released a report on the management and oversight of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

The Soldiers’ Home was the site of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak early on in the pandemic, where nearly 80 veterans passed away from the virus, drawing criticism from families and state leaders. But, issues at the home date back way before then. The Inspector General’s investigation began in 2019 after their office received an anonymous complaint about several concerns about then-superintendent Bennett Walsh. Western Mass News spoke with the daughter of one veteran who says she believes Walsh was not qualified for that role.

“He was the captain of the ship and he let that ship sink,” said Laurie Mandeville-Beaudette.

Mandeville-Beaudette spoke with Western Mass News after the state’s Inspector General released a report Friday following an investigation into the management and oversight of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Her father, Jim, resided at the home for more than sixteen years before he passed away of COVID-19.

The Inspector General’s Office looked into the management of the home between May of 2016 and February of 2020, after it said it received an anonymous complaint in 2019 raising concerns about then-superintendent, Bennett Walsh.

The 91-page report detailed what is being called “critical shortcomings” in the management of the Soldiers’ Home, as well as concerns with former superintendent Bennett Walsh.

The Inspector General said that out of three candidates recommended for superintendent, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services only met with Walsh, who was then appointed by the Governor.

They also said Walsh created an “unprofessional and negative work environment.” And that the Department of Veterans Services officials failed to address complaints by people at the home.

Mandeville-Beaudette said she wasn’t surprised by the report.

“I don’t think any family member or any member of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition ever felt that Bennett Walsh was qualified for the position,” she said.

She told Western Mass News that Walsh did not show interest in the vets.

“He always had his cell phone in his face, like a teenager would...My dad at the time had been there in the facility the longest amount of time. He had no idea what my dad’s name was,” said Mandeville-Beaudette.

Western Mass News also caught up with State Senator John Velis, who had been very vocal about the issues at the home and he commended the Inspector General for addressing the needs of veterans and investigating these issues.

“One of the main takeaways for me is that it identified many of the things that we put forth in the Senate bill involving the chain of command, involving the governance,” said Velis.

The report also added recommendations, which Velis said will be reflected in the Senate bill.

“They talked about the need to have an ombudsman for family members, for staff to call up if things are going on in the home that people need to know about. They really talked about DPH, the Department of Public Health, needing to have a much more robust role in the process,” said Velis.

The report is just one piece of a larger effort to address issues at both Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke. Velis said they are ready to take the next steps.

“I’ve said from day one, the most important thing, as long as we keep the guiding principle of ensuring that something like this never happens again, I think we’re going to be just fine,” said Velis.

The attorney representing Bennett Walsh told us they have no comment on the Inspector General’s report. We also reached out to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.

A spokesperson told us quote: “Today’s report sheds an important light on the reforms that are sorely needed at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Massachusetts owes it to our veterans to ensure that they can receive high-quality care in a safe environment. Our office will continue to push for accountability on behalf of the loved ones who lost family members to past failures at the Home.”