The Justice Department on Friday opened a federal investigation of a Massachusetts nursing home for veterans where 32 patients have died since late March.
Twenty-eight of the victims have tested positive for coronavirus.
Nearly half the residents of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home have tested positive for the virus, and almost 70 members of the staff have been infected, according to the state. The superintendent of the state-run facility was placed on leave, and 46 residents who tested negative were moved to a nearby hospital to keep them safe from the virus that raged through the nursing home. About 90 remain at the home.
"We will get to the bottom of what happened here," said Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. "It would be difficult to overstate our obligation to the health and well-being of elderly and disabled military veterans."
State officials began their own investigation March 30. Gov. Charlie Baker said he did not know about the virus outbreak until March 29. But Bennett Walsh, the superintendent who was placed on leave, told the Boston Globe that he kept state officials informed several times a day as conditions at the home deteriorated.
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Members of the National Guard are now helping provide care for those at the facility. Walsh said that at one point during the crisis, roughly one-fourth of staff members were not reporting for work.
The federal investigation will examine whether the civil rights of residents were violated by a failure to provide adequate medical care, both during the pandemic and more generally.
A federal law gives the government authority to investigate state-run institutions such as nursing homes.