Baker should testify on soldiers’ house, says Downing
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Downing criticized Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday for his handling of the soldiers’ house in Holyoke ahead of last year’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak, saying the governor should testify before lawmakers about the revelations in a new Boston Globe Spotlight report.
Days after the globe reported As Baker was more involved than he had previously indicated in the selection of former Superintendent Bennett Walsh to lead the establishment, Downing criticized the outgoing Republican and said his administration’s decisions left veterans ” abandoned ”and“ vulnerable ”.
“The veterans of the Holyoke House of Soldiers were abandoned long before COVID,” said Downing, a former state senator running for governor in 2022. “They were abandoned by a political culture within of the Baker administration, which was always more concerned with distributing jobs to politically powerful friends than with ensuring our veterans, their families and their caregivers the support they deserve.
U.S. Attorney Mark Pearlstein, whom Baker appealed to examine the outbreak that has killed at least 76 veterans, concluded that the management of the house made significant missteps and that the Baker administration failed to supervise Walsh despite being aware of his lack of qualifications.
Following Pearlstein’s report, Veterans Services Secretary Francisco Urena resigned – something he told The Globe he did at the behest of Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders – and the administration resigned from Walsh.
The Globe reported Thursday that Pearlstein’s report was “marred by key errors and omissions that helped shield Baker and Sudders from blame.”
“Governor Baker left Holyoke veterans vulnerable when he hired Bennett Walsh,” Downing said. “Governor Baker left them vulnerable when he gave Walsh marching orders on budgets that did not meet the needs of the facility and ignored calls from the former superintendent to make necessary capital improvements. Governor Baker left them vulnerable when senior officials in his administration looked away like a red flag after the red flag was raised over Walsh’s leadership and conditions on the ground.
Baker originally said he met Walsh, who was hired with no experience in healthcare management, when he swore in the US Navy. The Globe discovered – and the administration confirmed to the newspaper – that Baker had in fact interviewed Walsh before appointing him to the post.
Downing demanded that Pearlstein’s interview with Baker be made public and that the governor testify before the Legislature “to bridge the gap between the Pearlstein report and recent media accounts.”
In a statement to the News Service on Monday, Baker spokeswoman Sarah Finlaw said “questioning the integrity of the Pearlstein report is completely unfounded” and that politics “played no role” in recruiting. by Walsh.
“There are currently several state and federal investigations underway, and to this day questioning the integrity of the Pearlstein Report is completely unfounded,” Finlaw said. As this report describes in detail, Bennett Walsh was hired on the recommendation of the Board of Trustees, and at the end of March, under his direction, the medical staff at the Holyoke Soldiers’ House made decisions which created a horrific and inexplicably chaotic situation. environment that resulted in the tragic deaths of our veterans. Politics played no role in his hiring. The Baker-Polito administration took responsibility for this heartbreaking tragedy and immediately implemented new leadership and tabled legislative reforms to improve home security for all residents, staff and families.
Baker has not indicated whether he will seek a third term in 2022, but if he does, the House of Soldiers tragedy risks becoming a controversial campaign issue.
Finlaw said Pearlstein’s findings were “consistent” with those of Attorney General Maura Healey pursuit criminal charges against Walsh and David Clinton, the former medical director of the Soldiers’ House.
Healey did not produce a written report the same way Pearlstein did, but announced charges against Walsh and Clinton last year with a Press release and press conference. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Several other agencies, including the Office of the Inspector General and the United States Attorney’s Office, also have ongoing investigations into the soldiers’ house.
Asked about the Globe Friday report, Baker mentionned that the epidemic “was a terrible tragedy and it’s upon us” while claiming that Pearlstein had “100% leeway” to investigate as he pleased.
Pearlstein himself told lawmakers in March that the administration did not impose any constraints on its investigation. However, he said his team “had not had the luxury of spending time on a full history of the Soldiers’ House” and other long-standing issues.
The legislature has convened a special committee to investigate the deadly epidemic. This panel, chaired by Representative Linda Dean Campbell and Senator Michael Rush, held eight public hearings focusing on a range of issues, including the first-hand experiences of workers and family members, the Board of Directors of long-term care facility and best practices. .
Sudders testified before the panel in January, where she facing questions about the staffing gaps and the value of hiring a registered nurse administrator to manage the home.
The current situation of the committee is not clear. Its leaders said in April they would seek an extension of their original March 31 deadline to file a report and legislative recommendations, but they have not announced any updates or scheduled an additional hearing in more than a month. .
Members scheduled an April 13 hearing on leadership, communications and chain of command issues at the facility, but canceled it after saying that the chief of staff of the Department of Veterans Services, Paul Moran, withdrew his participation.
To date, lawmakers have failed to act on Baker’s legislative proposals regarding the management of the Soldiers’ House.