Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that the state has reached a $56 million settlement with the families in the Holyoke Soldiers' Home COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020.
“The COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was a terrible tragedy," Baker said in a statement. "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."
The agreement is subject to approval by the federal district court for Massachusetts. The terms of the settlement will cover veterans who lived at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home at any time between March 1, 2020 and June 23, 2020 and who became ill or died from COVID during that period.
Former U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern will serve as the settlement claims administrator and will make awards to participating claimants based on his review of each claimant’s individual circumstances, the state said. Estates of deceased veterans would receive a minimum award of $400,000 and veterans who contracted COVID but survived would receive a minimum of $10,000. The fund will also provide for payment of court approved attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs.
The settlement of the class-action suit, once approved, will resolve all potential claims relating to the COVID outbreak during the covered period. Claimants will receive further details on the settlement directly from their attorneys and through a court approved process.
Baker said he plans to file legislation seeking $56 million for the claims fund in the coming weeks.
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“There is no amount of money that can compensate our clients for the loss of their loved ones. 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,” Tom Lesser, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said in a statement.
Nearly 80 residents died and many more residents and staffers were sickened in spring 2020 at the Holyoke home.
Greg Monette's father, FEMA leader and Army Col. Ted Monette, was one of the first to die at the home. For him and other families, money is not enough.
"Basically it’s like a handshake and it’s insincere," he said.
"Still get choked up thinking about my dad and the impact he had on the people around the world so we always have that," he added.
Holyoke home workers also filed a class-action suit alleging they were forced to care for sick and dying veterans in “inhumane conditions.”
A blistering state Inspector General’s report released last month said the superintendent of the Holyoke home lacked both the leadership skills and the temperament to run such a facility when he was hired in 2016.
The 91-page report, which covered the period from May 2016 until February 2020 — just before the pandemic struck with full force — was also highly critical of the process that led to the hiring of Bennett Walsh to lead the home and of state oversight of the facility.
The investigation that led to the report started in 2019 in response to pre-pandemic complaints about Walsh, who resigned in October 2020 as he faced criminal charges over his handling of one of the deadliest known COVID-19 outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the U.S. Those charges were dismissed last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.