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Mass. will pay $56 million to settle lawsuit over COVID outbreak at Holyoke Solders' Home

The Soldiers’ Home is a state-run long-term residence and health care facility for veterans in Holyoke. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Soldiers’ Home is a state-run long-term residence and health care facility for veterans in Holyoke. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts will pay $56 million to the families of veterans who contracted COVID-19 during a devastating outbreak that tore through the Holyoke Soldiers' Home two years ago.

The money would cover veterans who got sick or died from COVID between early March and late-June 2020, according to Thursday's announcement from Gov. Charlie Baker's office.

Speaking on WBUR's Radio Boston, Baker described the outbreak as a "terrible, terrible, terrible tragedy," and said he's satisfied with the agreement.

"I'm glad we have a resolution and I hope it provides people with some closure," he said.

The settlement needs the court's OK. Baker said he plans to file legislation seeking $56 million for the claims fund in the coming weeks.

Tom Lesser, an attorney representing one of the plaintiffs, agreed with Baker that no amount of money can repay the cost of losing a loved one.

"But our clients are grateful that the Commonwealth has acted to resolve this matter without the need for protracted litigation by agreeing to compensate both the families of those who died of COVID, as well as the veterans who survived," Lesser said in the state's press release. "The settlement is fair and just."

The estate of each veteran who died in the outbreak would receive $400,000 at minimum, the state said. Veterans who contracted COVID, but survived, would receive at least $10,000. To date, 76 veterans have died of COVID-19 at the soldiers' home, according to the latest downloadable report by the state.

The outbreak spurred efforts on Beacon Hill to overhaul Holyoke Soldiers' Home leadership, as well as construct a new facility to replace the current home, which was built in the 1950s.

A legislative report released last year faulted the Baker administration for missteps it said exacerbated the outbreak. The state inspector general said the home's superintendent who oversaw its response, Bennett Walsh, lacked the skills needed for the job. Walsh and medical director Dr. David Clinton both faced criminal charges over their handling of the outbreak that were ultimately dismissed.

In his Radio Boston interview, Baker said he remembered calling families affected by the outbreak.

"I called 100 families. I talked to 80 of them, plus or minus. And some of those phone calls lasted 5 minutes, and some of them lasted an hour," he said. "That was my opportunity to both express my grief, and to give people a chance to talk to me about their family member, and about the home and the circumstances and situation."

Reflecting on his administration's pandemic response, Baker singled out protections for elderly residents living in long-term care facilities as "the thing that I would have liked to have gotten to faster."

This article was originally published on May 12, 2022.

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Jack Mitchell Twitter Associate Producer
Jack Mitchell is an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom. He works across a wide spectrum of departments and shows — from the newscast unit, to WBUR.org, to Radio Boston.

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