“The Governor “forgot” who he hired (Walsh) 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.” ~ State Senator Diana DiZoglio
By: Tom Duggan – June 1, 2021
Massachusetts State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is calling for a full senate investigation into the Baker Administration (complete with subpoena power) after it was revealed that Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco Urena (of Lawrence) was wrongly blamed for the Covid deaths of 77 veterans at the Old Soldiers home in Holyoke.
DiZoglio says she will call in Governor Charlie Baker himself to testify.
Governor Baker demanded the resignation of Urena – a hero veteran and purple heart recipient – despite the fact that he had no authority or responsibility for Bennet Walsh, 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.
Urena’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders has not been held accountable even though she had full authority to hire, fire, and discipline Walsh.
At a legislative hearing Sudders testified that it was Urena who was to blame, that Urena was derelict in his duty to oversee Walsh’s actions, and that Urena refused Walsh’s request for the National Guard to staff the home when the majority of the nurses called in sick due to Covid concerns.
Testimony and documents presented at that hearing directly contradict Sudders testimony and a Boston Globe Spotlight report showed that it was higher ups in the Baker Administration who dragged their feet when Urena feverishly requested the National Guard be brought in.
DiZoglio told the Valley Patriot she was disgusted at the treatment of Urena.
“The Governor “forgot” who he hired (Walsh) 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.”
Walsh – who is politically connected to Baker, was hired by Sudders to be the superintendent of the Old Soldiers Home in Holyoke despite 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 interviewed.
Governor Baker said he relied on an “investigative report” when he demanded Urena’s resignation. That report was constructed by political insider Atty Mark Pearlstein, who does business with the state and is a long time Baker ally.
DiZoglio questioned “why former Veterans Services Secretary Francisco Urena was forced to resign by the Administration when he had no statutory oversight of the management and operations at Holyoke”.
DiZoglio 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.”
Senator DiZoglio said she just can’t let the blaming of Urena in that report go unanswered after media reports and a Legislative investigation found 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 moths before the Covid deaths in his nursing home. Emails show that Urena’s efforts were thwarted by Mary Lou Sudders at every step of the way.
DiZoglio says 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.”
DiZoglio questions the validity and construction of the “Pearlstein Report,” – the investigation which blamed Urea.
“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 her questions, DiZoglio raised 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.
SEE THE JUNE VALLEY PATRIOT FOR A FULL REPORT ON THE SCAPEGOATING OF FRANCISCO URENA