Soldiers’ Home trustees to meet on superintendent’s job Sept. 30 

  • Bennett Walsh, superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.  STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE/CHRIS VAN BUSKIRK

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2020 9:45:25 AM

HOLYOKE — The board of trustees at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke are scheduled to meet on Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. to discuss the employment of embattled Superintendent Bennett Walsh.

The special meeting was scheduled after Hampden Superior Court Judge John Ferrara ruled earlier this week that the board of trustees — not the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker — has the power to hire or fire the Soldiers’ Home superintendent.

The board had previously attempted to meet on April 11 to discuss Walsh’s employment as a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the facility, killing at least 76 veteran residents. However, Walsh filed suit before that meeting, and Ferrara subsequently barred the trustees from discussing the subject.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders later attempted to fire Walsh on June 24, the same day a state-commissioned investigation into the outbreak was released. That report found Walsh “was not qualified to manage a long-term care facility,” and that high-ranking Baker administration officials failed to act decisively or ask for key data when informed of the developing crisis.

Ferrara ultimately ruled that Sudders does not have the power to fire the Soldiers’ Home superintendent in Holyoke. State law gives that power to the board of trustees, who are appointed by the governor to seven-year terms.

Board of trustees chairman Kevin Jourdain said that the board is grateful for Ferrara’s opinion, which makes clear who has authority over the superintendent’s employment. He said the meeting over Walsh’s future will be held in executive session, and that he doesn’t expect the board to take a vote on his employment during that meeting.

Meanwhile, Baker said at an event in Lowell on Wednesday that he expects trustees to terminate Walsh, citing the state-commissioned report on the outbreak put together by former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein, according to State House News Service.

“We would expect the board, based on the Pearlstein report which made pretty clear that there were serious mistakes made over the course of the months of February and March, that they would act to remove Bennett Walsh permanently,” he told reporters.

Walsh’s lawyer, William Bennett, has disputed any characterization that Walsh is to blame for the coronavirus outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home. In a statement earlier this week, he said Baker and Sudders have “vilified” his client, who is also his nephew, and that the contagious virus spread in the home despite the “good faith efforts of the staff.”

Jourdain said the board would reach out to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Walsh to work with them on the process and decision surrounding Walsh’s continued employment.

“It has always been the goal of the board of trustees to ensure that our veterans have the leadership they deserve to provide them the outstanding care they deserve,” Jourdain said. “In the end, it is all about serving them and any decision the board makes will be focused solely on them and what is in their best interests in the years ahead.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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