BOSTON — The families of three residents of a state-run veterans’ care facility in Massachusetts who died after contracting COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic say in a federal lawsuit that the deaths were “premature and preventable” and the result of “unsanitary, unfit, and unacceptable living conditions” at the facility.

The veterans who lived at the Chelsea Soldiers’ home died in 2020, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston.

The civil rights lawsuit seeks class-action status, a jury trial and unspecified compensation under the Fourteenth Amendment for the deprivation of constitutional rights.

The defendants are Marylou Sudders, former secretary of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Francisco Urena, former Veterans Services secretary who held the position at the time of the outbreak; Cheryl Lussier Poppe, superintendent of the home at the start of the pandemic; and four others identified as John or Jane Doe.

At the time, they all worked for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees the facility.

A spokesperson for the agency said via email it does not comment on pending litigation.


Messages were left at listed phone numbers for the three named defendants. No defense attorneys were listed in court records.

The lawsuit was filed by the estates of Army Staff Sgt. Joseph “Red” Terenzio, a decorated infantry rifleman who served in the Pacific during World War II; John J. Sullivan, who served in the Navy as a 2nd class machinist during the Vietnam War; and Maurice Poulin, who earned several medals during a 24-year Coast Guard career, and who participated in nine invasions during World War II.

The defendants “failed to take timely or appropriate actions with respect to the deadly COVID-19 virus, failed to address or correct unsanitary, unfit, and unacceptable living conditions” and “demonstrated callous indifference to the rights of the veterans” at the facility, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit further states the veterans and their families “experienced unnecessary pain, suffering, loss, personal humiliation, mental anguish, and mental and emotional distress.”

A total of 31 residents of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home died during the pandemic, and many others were sickened, the lawsuit says.

A similar lawsuit was filed by the families of 84 veterans who died after contracting COVID-19 at the state’s other veterans care center, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, in one of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the country.

That class-action lawsuit was settled in November for $58 million, which was distributed among the families of the 84 veterans who died, as well as roughly the same number who fell ill with the disease but survived.

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