How Rich People of Privilege Set Up a Hero Marine From Lawrence
By: Tom Duggan – June, 2021
Veterans and politicians in Massachusetts are demanding answers and an apology for Purple Heart recipient Francisco Urena, the former Secretary of Veterans Services for the Commonwealth, after a legislative report and a Boston Globe expose proved he was wrongly blamed by Governor Charlie Baker for the deaths of 77 veterans at the Old Soldiers Home in Holyoke.
Air Force Veteran John MacDonald of Chelmsford – spokesman for Veterans Assisting Veterans – says that he and fellow veterans are demanding that Governor Charlie Baker publicly apologize to Urena “and make it right”.
MacDonald is circulating an on-line petition.
“He not only destroyed this hero’s reputation, but he attacked his honor and worst of all his ability to provide for his family because he is no longer employable thanks to the governor.”
“Francisco Urena was 100% used as a scapegoat by Charlie Baker for the deaths of these hero veterans at the Old Soldiers Home. There is nobody who exemplifies what a hero is more than Francisco Urena. This is a guy who not only went off and fought for his country, but then came back and dedicated his life to helping fellow veterans and their families here at home. When he was made Secretary of Veterans Services he didn’t come in as a politician with ambitions of climbing the political ladder, he came in as a true public servant.”
“I think that’s one of the reasons they felt free to go after him. He didn’t have a big political network to protect him, and he didn’t come into the administration with an ivy league degree or a silver spoon in his mouth.”
“He came up the ranks by pulling himself up by his bootstraps and getting things done. He’s a Lawrence kid who worked his way up as opposed to the elite ivy league oligarchs who have infected this administration.”
MacDonald – a member of the state republican committee – strongly supported Charlie Baker for Governor over the years, and was partly responsible for Baker winning the governorship. He now says that he is disappointed that “Charlie Baker has turned out to be “a typical rotten politician” and has not only called for an apology for Urena but called for the resignation of HHS Secretary Mary Lou Sudders and Baker himself.
MacDonald’s petition is available at the Veterans Assisting Veterans Website and Facebook page.
BAKER AND SUDDERS’ SLIGHT OF HAND
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker demanded the resignation of Francisco Urena last year at the start of the COVID pandemic, despite the fact that Urena had no legal authority or responsibility for Bennet Walsh. Walsh was the superintendent of the Old Soldiers Home who put COVID patients in with non-COVID patients causing the deaths of 77 veterans at the home.
Governor Baker said he relied on an “investigative report” when he demanded Urena’s resignation. But, that report was constructed by political insider, Atty. Mark Pearlstein, who does business with the state and is a long time Baker ally. Pearlstein did not interview any of the people involved in the nursing home deaths and did not get copies of emails or phone logs showing the chain of events that took place.
Although he was called the “Secretary of Veterans Services”, Urena’s job was not a cabinet level secretary position. That means Urena had to go through his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders to get the governor’s attention.
Sudders has not been held accountable for any of the deaths at the Old Soldiers’ Home, even though her office was directly involved in denying Urena’s request for the National Guard to be called in to run the home in the middle of the pandemic.
Bennet Walsh was hired by Charlie Baker to be superintendent of the Old Soldiers Home – on the recommendation of HHS Secretary, Mary Lou Sudders, and the independent board of directors despite strenuous objections by Urena that he had no nursing home experience. What’s more, Urena had recommended a candidate for the superintendent’s position with years of nursing home administration experience, but was never even given an interview, while Walsh by contrast, was personally interviewed by Governor Baker.
LEGISLATURE STEPS IN
At a series of eight legislative hearings Chaired by Methuen State Rep. Linda Campbell, Sudders put the blame on Urena for the 77 nursing home deaths, saying that Urena was derelict in his duty to oversee Superintendent Walsh’s actions. She also claimed that Urena refused Walsh’s request for the National Guard to staff the home when the majority of nurses called in sick due to COVID concerns.
But testimony and documents presented at those legislative hearings, directly contradicted Sudders testimony, showing that Urena feverishly tried to get members of the Baker Administration to call in the Guard, and that his efforts were thwarted by the administration every step of the way … all the while veterans were dying daily from the inappropriate actions of nursing home officials.
The legislative report exonerated Urena of being responsible for the nursing home deaths. The report cited systemic problems for those deaths and poor management by those running the nursing home.
The report states:
“Val Liptak, who was appointed by Secretary Sudders to step into the chaos and stabilize the situation, stated that when she and her team arrived “none of us have ever seen anything like this.”
The 1-North unit “looked like a war zone.” Incident Commander Lisa Colombo stated this “hot” unit had Veterans “crammed in on top of each other,” some 91 of whom “were clearly dying.” There were “chairs of people lined up, some were clothed, some unclothed, some were wearing masks, some weren’t.”
26 The immediate causes of the tragedy were the result of many systemic governance failures that were laid bare and contributed directly and substantially to the tragedy. Key immediate causes included: possible delays in responding to calls for additional assistance and support from the National Guard; understaffing during the crisis and as it escalated; COVID-19 reporting structures and requirements that were not clearly defined by the Baker Administration; the absence of the Medical Director; a lack of implementation of infection 25 Pearlstein, Mark. The COVID-19 Outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke: An Independent Investigation Conducted for the Governor of Massachusetts, p. 7, June 23, 2020. 26 Id, pp. 90-91.12 control protocols; and the inability for clinical staff to track patients’ conditions due to lack of adequate record keeping and the absence of electronic medical records.”
The legislative report did not hold Urena responsible for any of the deaths.
Lawrence State Rep. Frank Moran said that the treatment of Urena by the governor was unjust.
“Last year’s horrific tragedy was the result of gross mismanagement during a time of global crisis, and I sincerely hope that the families of those veterans are given the clarity that they so justly deserve.”
“What took place at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home last year is a tragedy beyond words that should never have been allowed to happen.”
“Given the scope and severity of this incident, I believe that additional measures should have been taken to ensure that Secretary Urena was afforded fair due process before being asked to resign from his position.”
“There should have been an extensive, transparent process by which Secretary Urena was deemed to be irrefutably at fault for the loss of some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Without this process being conducted in such a manner, I do not believe that one individual should be solely liable for what happened and do not consider this course of action to be fair or just.”
FORMER BOSS DEFENDS URENA
A Boston Globe Spotlight report also showed that it was higher ups in the Baker Administration who dragged their feet calling in the National Guard while it was Urena who requested the National Guard be brought in. The report shows that Urena followed up several times with administration officials asking why it hadn’t yet been done, even as the death count reached six dead veterans.
Sullivan said he hired Urena because he had never seen anyone in his life who was more dedicated to his community and helping veterans after they came home.
“Here was a guy who lived and breathed helping veterans, a guy who still has shrapnel in his face from his service overseas, and desperately trying to get the administration’s attention to call in the guard, and he wasn’t even legally required to do that. But he did it. He did it because that’s who Francisco is. And the thanks he got was that they blamed him for the Guard not being notified immediately. The one guy who was actually trying to do something about all this. It’s inexcusable.”
“He is not only owed an apology he should be reinstated to that job, like, tomorrow. We now have the proof that his forced resignation was bogus. He was set up. He should be put back in that job doing what he does best, helping veterans and their families get the government services they are entitled to.”
“I remember the day he came back from the Middle East back in 2006. We were dealing with a massive flood in the city. The Red Cross had set up tents outside the affected area for victims of the flood to get food and supplies, and try to get temporary housing.”
“Francisco heard about the flood on the radio coming back from Logan Airport. He dropped off his bags at home and came right to the tents to help.”
“He was there around the clock for days helping families that were displaced and identifying veterans who were affected, so that he could get them additional services. So, when I first heard that it was Francisco being blamed and that Charlie had forced him to resign, I thought, I know both of these guys really well and there is no way in hell Francisco Urena neglected a veteran, COVID or no COVID.”
SENATOR DEMANDS BAKER TESTIFY
Massachusetts State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is calling for a full senate investigation into the Baker Administration, saying she will call in Governor Charlie Baker himself to testify. DiZoglio told the Valley Patriot she was disgusted at the treatment of Urena.
DiZoglio says that the deceptions by Baker and his administration are unacceptable. She further questioned why the governor claimed that the first time he met Bennett Walsh “was during his swearing-in to the superintendent position” – a claim refuted in the Spotlight report, which revealed Baker was in-fact greatly involved in his hiring, and even interviewed him personally.”
“The Governor somehow “forgot” who he hired (Walsh),” DiZoglio told The Valley Patriot, “and a head had to roll. So, he sent the Lawrence kid packing. Our Purple Heart veteran, Francisco Urena should certainly receive a public apology.” DiZoglio questioned “why Urena was forced to resign by the Administration when he had no statutory oversight of the management and operations at Holyoke”.
She said others were responsible and those administration officials should be the ones held accountable.
She also said that she is “calling for a Senate oversight hearing, with sworn testimony from the Governor and his Administration, utilizing the full subpoena and record review powers within the Legislature’s purview, into the layers of potential wrongdoing raised in the Spotlight (Globe) investigation.”
She added that Urena had no part in the COVID deaths and, in fact, tried hard to get the Baker administration to do something about Bennet Walsh’s incompetence for months before the COVID deaths in his nursing home.
DiZoglio says she questions the validity and construction of the “Pearlstein Report,” – which blamed Urena. “That ‘investigation’ was spearheaded by Attorney Mark W. Pearlstein who was critical of the home’s then-superintendent, Bennett Walsh, for mishandling the outbreak, yet placed no responsibility upon the Governor or his Administration for the tragedy at Holyoke.”
Among the questions DiZoglio raised, was, how Walsh – “someone with no nursing home background – was hired to make life and death decisions for our vulnerable veteran population during a global pandemic.”
“As we took time to remember and honor those brave soldiers who gave their lives for our nation this Memorial Day, I was filled with an even greater sense of urgency and responsibility to find out what truly happened at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in order to prevent it from ever happening again,” DiZoglio said.
“As elected leaders, we need to do more to protect the most vulnerable veterans in our care. Now is the time to get answers to some of the questions raised by the recent Boston Globe Spotlight series which exposed not only serious flaws in the management and oversight of the entirely state-funded Holyoke Soldiers Home, but also begged the question of how to legislatively prevent similar disasters from ever happening again.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 77 residents of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke died of the virus – the deadliest outbreak at a long-term care facility in the United States during the course of the pandemic.
In late March, there had been 230 residents at the home.
By the end of April, only about 100 remained. ◊