Sudders: Nursing homes still work in progress
Death toll surpasses industry’s worst-case scenario
AS THE STATE’S OVERALL COVID-19 numbers continue to trend in a good direction, a top Baker administration official said on Tuesday that addressing the serious problems faced by nursing homes remains a work in progress.
Residents and staff at long-term care facilities across Massachusetts currently account for 21 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases and 61 percent of the fatalities. The numbers exceed a worst-case scenario feared by the industry just over a month ago.
What caused fatalities at these facilities to rise so high has become one of the major questions facing state policymakers. It is also why the Baker administration is moving slowly in allowing family visits, probably outdoors, to senior care facilities. Officials said visits would not resume for at least two weeks. “It’s a complicated issue, a lot of psychological benefit but big concerns about issues associated with the virus,” said Gov. Charlie Baker at a State House press conference.
Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said issues surrounding infection control, personal protection equipment, and staffing were a problem at long-term care facilities before the COVID-19 pandemic began and have remained a problem during the pandemic.
Last week, the state reported that 37 percent of 360 audited nursing homes failed to pass a 28-point infection control inspection. One point was awarded for each of the 28 items on the checklist, with those facilities scoring 24 or more points passing, those scoring 20 to 24 passing but requiring an additional inspection, and those scoring under 20 or those failing one of the six core requirements failing.
According to the state Department of Public Health, 228 facilities passed. The remaining 132 failed — 119 of them had scores of 20 or above but failed one of the core requirements and 13 scored less than 20.
Sudders said those facilities that failed are now being audited again. Results of those audits will be available next week, but Sudders indicated the early results from a third of them indicated significant improvement, particularly on infection control and personal protection equipment.
The Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes, which have gained a lot of notoriety for veteran fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic, were not included in the audits. The Holyoke home is the focus of several ongoing investigations, including one by a former prosecutor retained by the Baker administration to look into what went wrong. Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the report should be released soon, and he will wait until then before commenting.
The number of deaths at long-term care facilities is closing in on 4,000, which would be a very grim milestone.
Tara Gregorio, the president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, warned on April 13 that deaths would spiral upward unless state leaders quickly ramped up testing of residents and staff, delivered more personal protection equipment, and funneled an additional $130 million a month to the industry. At the time, 378 residents and staff at long-term care facilities had died of COVID-19.
Gregorio said her organization’s modeling indicated the most likely scenario would yield 12,500 infections and 1,140 deaths at nursing homes. But she said any delays in providing additional funding, testing, and personal protection equipment could up the projections to a worst-case scenario of 19,000 infections and 3,800 deaths.
Gregorio, the president of the Senior Care Association, could not be reached for comment.