Most COVID-19 deaths now at nursing homes

Fatalities at hospitals, elsewhere growing at slower pace

THE COVID-19 EPIDEMIC in Massachusetts is fast becoming a nursing home epidemic.

According to data released by the state on Saturday, 810 people died of COVID-19 at Massachusetts long-term care facilities and 750 at hospitals and other locations throughout the rest of the state.

Deaths in long-term care facilities and deaths everywhere else both continue to rise, but they are rising faster at the long-term care facilities. Over the last eight days, fatalities at nursing homes grew at an average daily rate of 16 percent while deaths at hospitals and everywhere else grew at an average of 10 percent a day.

As of  Saturday, the 810 deaths from COVID-19 at nursing homes represented 52 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state and more than two-thirds of all new deaths reported on Saturday. On April 10, deaths from COVID-19 at long-term facilities represented 41 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.

There are some indications that deaths at long-term care facilities in Massachusetts may be disproportionately high relative to other states. According to a New York Times article on Friday, there have been 7,000 COVID-19 deaths  at nursing homes in the United States, about a fifth of all COVID-19 deaths. If that number is accurate, Massachusetts accounts for nearly 12 percent of the nationwide total.  The Associated Press reported 3,600 nursing home deaths nationally from COVID-19 on April 12.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has been focused over the last two weeks on preparing for an expected surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations by building out bed capacity and securing personal protection equipment. On Saturday, the governor held a press conference at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which has been turned into a field hospital in case the need for beds outpaces what is available at area hospitals.

So far, hospitals have been able to keep up with demand. On Friday, the governor said 58 percent of the state’s hospital beds were empty.

Nursing homes are in a very different situation. Almost daily there are reports of nursing homes disclosing deaths at their facilities and high rates of COVID-19 cases.

The governor began focusing resources and attention on long-term care facilities this past week, allocating $13 million a month for four months to the industry as a whole, a similar amount to nursing homes that set up separate wings for COVID-19 patients, and $30 million for standalone facilities designed to take overflow from hospitals and other facilities.

Industry officials, however, say the funding is not nearly enough. They say the industry has been underfunded for years and now finds itself stretched to the limits trying to protect an elderly population that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Instead of $13 million a month, industry officials say they need $130 million a month.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Tara Gregorio, the president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, said 40 percent of nursing home positions are currently vacant, partly because of the low pay and partly because of fear of contracting COVID-19.

“The only way we believe we can meaningfully begin to stabilize our staffing is for the state to provide a $130 million monthly investment to fund overtime costs, hiring of new staff, and double-time for ‘hero’s pay’ for our frontline staff, and ensure their safety through the consistent availability of PPE,” she said.