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State reaches $56M settlement over Holyoke Soldiers' Home COVID-19 outbreak

The Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
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The Holyoke Soldiers' Home

A $56 million settlement has been reached in a civil lawsuit over the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home in 2020.

The deal is between families of veterans who died or those who got sick and Gov. Charlie Baker's office.

According to a press release, the settlement covers veterans who died from COVID-19 or became sick while living at the facility from March 1 to June 23, 2020. The estates of the deceased will receive at least $400,000 while survivors can get a minimum of $10,000.

Donald K. Stern, a former U.S. Attorney will administer the settlement, reviewing claims and making the final determination on awards. Plaintiffs’ legal fees approved by the court will also be paid for.

The U.S. District Court for Massachusetts still needs to sign off on the settlement and Baker will file a bill with the legislature to cover the deal in the coming weeks.

“The COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was a terrible tragedy. While we know nothing can bring back those who were lost, we hope that this settlement brings a sense of closure to the loved ones of the veterans,” Baker said in a statement.

Attorney Tom Lesser represents some of the plaintiffs — families of veterans who died during the deadly outbreak that became public in March, 2020.

“There is no amount of money that can compensate our clients for the loss of their loved ones,” he said in a statement. “But our clients are grateful that the Commonwealth has acted to resolve this matter without the need for protracted litigation by agreeing to compensate both the families of those who died of COVID, as well as the veterans who survived. The settlement is fair and just.”

Vickie Philips-Chiz will be among the recipients of the settlement. Her husband, Stanley Chiz, was a Korean War veteran who died after catching the virus at the Soldiers' Home.

"Every penny is deserved by the families who were put through the pain and the loss of their loved ones," she said.

The lawsuit named several on the leadership team at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home during the outbreak as defendants, including former Superintendent Bennett Walsh and medical director Dr. David Clinton. Current Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and former secretary of veterans services Francisco Urena were also included.

Bennett and Clinton had been criminally charged with neglect by state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, but a judge later threw the case out, ruling last year there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the accusations.

At least 76 veterans died at the facility during the outbreak. An independent report commissioned by Baker in 2020 and conducted by attorney Mark Pearlstein was critical of Walsh’s leadership at the soldiers’ home.

The report said "substantial errors and failures" were made in handling the outbreak. A recent report from the state inspector general’s office concluded Walsh lacked the experience and temperament to be an effective superintendent, and criticized Sudders and Baker for how Walsh was hired.

The House and Senate have passed separate legislation changing the governance structure of the Holyoke facility and another in Chelsea. A conference committee began working in March to resolve the differences between the two bills. There has also been an effort to secure funding to build a new soldiers’ home in Holyoke.

Alden Bourne contributed.

Updated: May 13, 2022 at 3:06 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a comment from Vickie Philips-Chiz, whose husband died after catching COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.