At Pittsfield nursing home, outsiders are suspected cause of outbreak
Number of deaths at Hillcrest Commons climbs to 32
AMID RISING coronavirus case numbers, Gov. Charlie Baker has pointed to community spread and informal gatherings at home as the leading culprit. Now, legislators and health officials are following his lead in trying to explain the outbreak of the virus and death toll at Hillcrest Commons in Pittsfield.
The number of COVID-19 deaths at the nursing and rehabilitation center climbed to 32 on Wednesday, with three quarters of residents having been infected with the virus in the last month.
The facility had a track record of zero confirmed COVID-19 cases a little more than a month ago, but then staff members started testing positive a couple weeks after Halloween.
In early November, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer began warning of a large spike in COVID-19 cases related to house parties and dining inside restaurants. It wasn’t until those numbers grew that the presence of the virus took over at Hillcrest.
On Facebook, Rep. Patricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield said there’s a “direct line” between the Halloween parties in Pittsfield and a group of indoor diners at the end of October to the outbreak at Hillcrest Commons.
Berkshire Healthcare Systems, which runs Hillcrest, has a similar theory but doesn’t know exactly what brought the virus in. “But I think we know that when we see community spread in any community, and there are nursing homes in those communities, and workers live in those communities, we then see that translate into the community that our residents live in,” said vice president and spokesperson Lisa Gaudet.
Gaudet similarly told the Berkshire Eagle that the source could have been a visitor before visitation was suspended on November 18, or a staff member or new admission in early November. Hillcrest froze admissions on November 24. The state Department of Public Health sent a rapid response team to Hillcrest the day before.
Four residents of Kimball Farms Nursing Care Center In Lenox,– which also is owned by Berkshire Healthcare Systems, have died.
As of Friday morning, there are 769 active cases in Pittsfield, which saw cases grow exponentially the week after Halloween in a climb that hasn’t stopped since.
Tri-Town Health Department Executive Director Jim Wilusz told the Berkshire Eagle the cases were imminent. “We knew this was coming, it was only a matter of time after Halloween,” he said.Dr. Alan Kulberg, the chair of the western Massachusetts city’s Board of Health, had a similar take.
Actual negligence doesn’t seem to be part of the issue. Julia Durchanek, a Holyoke attorney who serves as a guardian for a number of residents at Massachusetts nursing homes, including one COVID positive resident living at Hillcrest, said she always has found that staff there are “very attentive” and “doing their best,” very different from Holyoke Soldiers Home, where one of her clients died earlier this year.