The family of a soldier who died in the major coronavirus outbreak at Holyoke Soldiers' Home is suing five officials who worked at the Massachusetts facility in federal court for alleged "deliberate indifference" in dealing with the spreading virus.
Seventy-six veterans living at the home who tested positive for the virus have died since the beginning of March, sparking several major investigations into how its administrators handled the outbreak.
The suspended superintendent of the home, Bennett Walsh, and former state Secretary of Veterans' Services Francisco Urena are among the defendents named in the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and seeks class-action status. The others are the people who served as the facility's medical director, chief nursing officer and assistant nursing director at the start of the outbreak.
"Each of these five defendants acted with deliberate indifference to the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, an indifference that resulted in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the Soldiers’ Home. The spread of COVID-19 at the Soldiers’ Home was preventable," says the lawsuit, filed by Paul Sniadach.
He manages the estate of Joseph Sniadach, a Korean War veteran with dementia who died April 27 after being diagnosed with the virus, according to the suit.
"Joseph was an energetic soul who easily connected with people and made friends wherever he went. He enjoyed sports, cigars, food, casinos, and, more than anything, socializing with family, friends, and just about anyone else he encountered," according to the suit.
The suit says the named administrators failed to protect Sniadach and the other veterans who died, in violation of the administrators' duty to care for the veterans.
To substantiate those claims, it heavily cites the independent investigation into the outbreak commissioned by Gov. Charlie Baker and released last month.
That investigation said the facility's leadership team made "substantial errors" in responding to the outbreak. That left Holyoke Soldiers' Home in "total pandemonium," according to one nurse interviewed by investigators.
Walsh's attorney, William Bennett, said in an email to The Associated Press that he is reviewing the complaint and will make a public statement next week.
Bennett, who is Walsh's uncle, previously said that Walsh acted appropriately in handling the virus outbreak at the facility.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Urena had a lawyer to comment on his behalf.
Asked about the lawsuit Friday, Baker didn't comment, but said, "What happened out there was a terrible tragedy."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.