Troubling signs at state elder care facilities
‘Things are starting to get scary;’ Who to believe in Holyoke
THE NUMBER OF CORONAVIRUS cases at the state’s nursing homes continued to mount dramatically on Thursday, amid troubling warnings from industry officials and explosive charges from the former head of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home that he notified Baker administration officials about the spread of the deadly virus at his facility and received no assistance to fight it.
The state Department of Public Health reported that the number of resident and staff positive COVID-19 tests at nursing homes and rest homes rose 32 percent on Thursday to 1,633. Confirmed cases at nursing homes now account for about 9 percent of the state’s total, but industry officials say the lack of testing means the number of cases at nursing homes is probably much, much higher.
Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services, said on Thursday that she is ramping up testing at the state’s nursing homes, expanding a National Guard mobile testing team from 80 to 250 members and encouraging nursing home staff to take their own samples from residents and submit them to labs for processing. For the third straight day, Sudders did not release information on the number of deaths at nursing homes, information she had promised to release on Tuesday.
Rich Bane, the president of BaneCare, which operates 11 nursing homes in Massachusetts, said what’s happening at facilities across the state should hardly come as a surprise. He said nursing homes have been underfunded for years because of inadequate state reimbursements and now find themselves battling a disease that is very difficult for the facilities to keep out.
Bane said nursing homes and their staffs do everything they can to keep the coronavirus out of their facilities, but it’s a huge challenge. “It’s the contagion,” he said. “Once it’s in, it spreads like wildfire.”
He said the spread of the virus among a vulnerable population is a very dangerous situation for both residents and staff. “It is incredibly stressful, incredibly challenging,” he said. “We’re getting close to a breaking point. Things are starting to get scary.”
Stories about the spread of the disease and deaths at nursing homes are cropping up across the state, but nowhere has the situation garnered more attention than at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where 24 veterans have died of COVID-19 and more than 60 others have tested positive.Gov. Charlie Baker said the first he learned about the situation at the Soldiers’ Home was on Sunday night March 29 from Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke. He quickly suspended the superintendent, Bennett Walsh; dispatched staff and resources, including members of the National Guard, to the home; and brought in a private attorney to investigate. Attorney General Maura Healey has also launched an investigation.
Walsh, a retired member of the Marine Corps lieutenant who was appointed to his post by Baker in 2016, released a statement on Thursday saying he kept state officials fully informed about the fast spread of the disease at the facility and also claimed his request for National Guard medical personnel on March 27 fell on deaf ears.“We provided updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. These updates were by phone, text, email, conference calls, and official report forms,” Bennett’s statement said. The updates went to the staffs of the Veterans Services secretary Francisco Urena, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the state Department of Public Health, according to Walsh.
“It is very disappointing to me that during this time of unspeakable horror the staffs at EOHH, DVS and DPH have remained silent and have let the lie that they didn’t know what was going on persist,” Walsh wrote. “State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark.”