BOSTON (CBS) – A former federal prosecutor will lead the investigation into the recent deaths of veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. The deaths of two more residents were announced Wednesday, bringing the total to 15.
Governor Charlie Baker said the state has hired Attorney Mark Pearlstein to conduct an independent investigation of the facility.
“The investigation will focus both on the events inside the facility that led to the tragic deaths of veterans in the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and on management and organizational oversight of the COVID-19 response,” a statement from the governor’s office read.
During a press conference on Wednesday in Worcester, Baker said he believes the investigation will provide “answers to what happened there, and what went wrong, and why and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Six of the veterans who died tested positive for coronavirus. Test results are pending for six of the other deceased residents.
On Tuesday, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse blamed overcrowding and a lack of proper patient isolation for the tragic deaths.
“We were just completely shocked,” Morse said. “Number one that it had happened. Number two that there was no communication between the facility and the city, nor any communication between the facility and the state that oversees this facility in the first place.”
As of Wednesday, 11 additional veteran residents and seven staff members had tested positive for coronavirus.
“I think this crisis in particular is going to illuminate the fact that we need to do a better job at every level to provide for our veterans,” Morse said.
The superintendent of the facility, Bennett Walsh, was placed on administrative leave on Monday. He said he will participate in the review.
“I am filled with grief and sorrow for all the Veterans who have died and I extend my sincere sympathies to their families,” Bennett said in a statement. “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.”
On Wednesday, Baker said he has visited the facility in the past and had positive experiences.
“I considered it to be one of the best places we had in the Commonwealth for our military families,” Baker said.
Two veterans have also died at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home.