Nursing homes to limit access to residents

To reduce coronavirus risk, visitors to be screened

WITH THE ELDERLY particularly susceptible to the coronavirus, the Baker administration is putting in place a series of measures to shield residents of nursing homes from visitors and workers carrying the disease.

Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services, said nursing homes “will be directed to actively screen and restrict access to visitors to ensure the safety and health of residents and staff.” They will also be asked to confirm their employees are not sick.

Anyone who displays signs of infection, such as cough, fever, or shortness of breath, will not be admitted. Similarly, anyone who has traveled internationally in the last 14 days or come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19  or even lives in a community where a “community-based spread of COVID-19 is occurring” will not be permitted to enter a nursing home.

These kinds of precautions may be hard to enforce. At Meadow Green Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Waltham, which is following protocols issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, visitors and vendors are being asked to fill out a short questionnaire detailing their health and recent travel activities.

“I have to be honest, it’s a cumbersome task because a lot of family visitors are not cooperative even though we have a sign on our doors,” said site administrator David Belle. “We’re asking them if they’ve been to China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, or if they have a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, fever.”

Belle said no visitors have been turned away yet, but keeping up the paperwork is difficult. With his residents being so frail, Belle said it might make more sense to stop visitation all together rather than require nursing homes to police visitors.

“What the governor of Connecticut mandated – no visits to nursing home centers – sounds drastic, but it’s prudent,” Belle said. He said the current approach of screening visitors is “a hard task to maintain.” Connecticut directed its nursing homes to limit visitors primarily to family and friends of dying patients on Monday.

At Meadow Green, there has been success in monitoring the health conditions of staff with daily meetings. If a staffer reports a sick child or spouse, they’re asked to notify the home’s administrators.

The 123-bed facility has been on top of ordering supplies, but those are limited because demand is so high. Instead of receiving an order of four boxes of gowns, for example, Belle said the facility received two.

“The unfortunate part is people have been abusing the marketplace, so vendors are limiting us now,” said Belle.

The Department of Public Health issued a guidance to nursing homes on coronavirus on February 27, and will update that on Wednesday with new screening requirements. Sudders said she will also hold a conference call with nursing home operators to discuss details.

Berkshire Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center in Sandisfield, which is located in Berkshire County, posted on Facebook about the facility’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus to its residents. “In addition to the common cold and more serious illnesses, including Influenza, we now have another illness we are working hard to avoid: Covid-19.”

The facility is asking that family members stay home if they experience cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, or any other symptoms of the virus.

Gov. Charlie Baker and top aides at a State House press conference said a lot of their focus is on the elderly because of their susceptibility to the virus. He said  seniors should avoid large crowds, sporting events, and public transportation to avoid potential contact with the virus. He also urged people who live in households with vulnerable individuals like elderly parents to avoid large crowds.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Baker said the rise has prompted him to rethink his future interactions with his 91-year-old father. “We’re probably gonna have a lot of conversations over the phone over the next few weeks. And I probably won’t be spending as much time with him physically,” Baker said.

The World Health Organization says that the fatality rate in China, where coronavirus was first detected, is 21.9 percent for those over 80. For those aged 10 to 39, the fatality rate is just .2 percent.