Attorney Pearlstein testifies on Holyoke Soldiers’ Home COVID-19 outbreak

Hampden County

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – State lawmakers held an oversight hearing Friday to further examine issues at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and why those issues resulted in the deaths of 76 veterans at the facility.

This was a big day in the investigation into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home because lawmakers got the chance to ask investigator Mark Pearlstein about his report.

Pearlstein was hired by the Baker Administration back in May of 2020 to uncover some of the management issues at the facility. In his report, Pearlstein found that Superintendent Bennett Walsh was not qualified to run the home.

Walsh now faces criminal charges is accused of moving COVID-19 positive patients into a room with residents that weren’t showing any symptoms.

When asked about Walsh’s decision, Pearlstein said the only time he can think of that being an option is in the wake of a natural disaster.

The committee asked Pearlstein to explain some of the management issues at the Home and they got his advice on how to prevent incidents like this from ever happening again.

Pearlstein Reflects on Holyoke Home Investigation, Timeframe

(SHNS) – U.S. Attorney Mark Pearlstein’s probe into the COVID-19 outbreak that killed at least 76 veterans who lived at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home did not face any constraints imposed by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, though the timeframe left investigators unable to dig more deeply into “a long and rich history” of issues at the facility, Pearlstein said Friday.

Nine months after the release of his bombshell report prompted the departure of Veterans’ Services Secretary Francisco Urena and the termination of former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh, Pearlstein sat for nearly two hours to field questions from the legislative panel conducting its own review of the tragedy.

Pearlstein said Friday that his team conducted its investigation pro bono after Baker tapped them last year, and he said the governor did not place any limits or roadblocks on their work. Sen. Anne Gobi, a Spencer Democrat, asked Pearlstein why his 174-page report focused as closely as it did on Walsh’s managerial decisions and Urena’s gaps in oversight and why there was not “more of a look at the real systemic problems” that she said the home has faced for years.

Pearlstein responded that he was tasked with answering the governor’s questions about what happened at the home and how it happened. His analysis focused on some broader issues such as staffing shortages that had been apparent before the pandemic hit, Pearlstein said, noting that investigators “did not have the luxury of time to do a comprehensive history of the soldiers’ home.”

“There’s no doubt that there is a long and rich history at the soldiers’ home of problems and dysfunction,” Pearlstein said, offering labor management as an example that “at least indirectly” contributed to the deadly outbreak. “But to dissect the history of labor-management dysfunction at the home would have been a very lengthy exercise, to be sure, and really would have been beyond the scope of what we were asked to do.”

Despite that, Pearlstein stressed that a deeper analysis of structural issues would not have changed his conclusions about the sequence of decisions and oversight failures that exacerbated the public health crisis.

He added that other investigative bodies that have a “broader scope,” such as the special legislative committee holding Friday’s hearing, might have the bandwidth to “take a more panoramic view.

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