COVID outbreaks slam elderly, staff at Linda Manor, lead to 4 deaths

  • Linda Manor in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Linda Manor in Northampton includes a nursing home and assisted living programs. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Linda Manor in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/7/2022 8:10:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Two separate outbreaks of COVID-19 at Linda Manor’s nursing home and assisted living programs infected 86 seniors in the past two months — causing four deaths — and 88 staff members, some of whom remain out of work while they continue to recover.

From Dec. 10 through Feb. 7, as coronavirus cases attributed to the omicron variant surged regionally, Linda Manor Extended Care Facility at 349 Haydenville Road in Leeds recorded 62 COVID-19 cases and two deaths among nursing home residents. Sixty-two staff also tested positive and 58 had recovered by Friday, according to Linda Manor’s owner, Berkshire Health Systems.

Next door to the 123-bed nursing home is Linda Manor Assisted Living, which comprises 64 apartments for traditional assisted living and 20 apartments for the Life Enrichment Memory Care Program (LEP) for residents with dementia.

A second outbreak began Dec. 26 inside the assisted living building, infecting 24 residents total. Two deaths occurred in the LEP, which accounted for 18 of the assisted living cases. In addition, 26 assisted living staff were infected; 20 recovered and six remained out of work and in isolation on Monday.

“This has been a terrible thing for everybody,” Berkshire Health Systems spokeswoman Lisa Gaudet said, adding that the long-term care relationship between residents and staff creates a sense of “family.” She said the nonprofit organization wished to express its “gratitude and appreciation” to Linda Manor’s staff.

“This is a very difficult time for people, and most of them have never gone through this before,” Al Ingegni, vice president of housing at Berkshire Health Systems, said Monday. The nonprofit is offering support groups for staff and a confidential employee assistance program.

Jill Landis, vice president of quality management at Berkshire Health Systems, said “things are looking fairly back to normal” as of Monday.

‘I was in there literally every day’

During the outbreaks, six LEP residents’ health care proxies complained in a 25-page letter to Linda Manor and Berkshire Health Systems about allegedly substandard infection control practices, including breaches of quarantine and inconsistent masking by staff.

One proxy, who asked not to be named publicly out of concern for their loved one at Linda Manor, told the Gazette on Monday that they were allowed into the LEP during the outbreak, which they considered to be dangerous. The resident did not experience severe illness, and the proxy said they were unaware of the extent of the outbreak.

“I was in there literally every day that she was in quarantine, talking to her and playing games with her,” the proxy, who is fully vaccinated, said. “Literally, they should not have me and other people going in to see our loved one. Good practice would have suggested that I not go in to see her.”

The proxy said the situation had “echoes of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home,” where an outbreak killed at least 76 residents in 2020, and that the Linda Manor outbreak likely would have been deadlier with a different variant like delta or if the facilities’ vaccination rates were lower.

According to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Linda Manor has reported a resident vaccination rate of 97.5% and a rate of 100% among staff in its nursing home.

Vaccination rates for the assisted living program are not reported to CMS and were not immediately available, but Landis said that 100% of staff are vaccinated.

“It is against our regulations to shut down visitations,” Landis said. “It is our responsibility to inform our visitors of infection control mitigation measures they can take, what they should be wearing, hand hygiene, etc.”

More than 170 cases among Linda Manor residents and staff over two months is “clearly a terrible record based on what we know these days” about managing the spread of COVID-19, the proxy said.

Berkshire Health Systems has held regular vaccine clinics at its congregate care facilities since October, Landis said.

Families allege protocol breakdown

A brief summary of the 25-page letter, included in documents shared with the Gazette by the health care proxies, alleges that “COVID-19 procedures are substandard” in the LEP.

“Management is not informing families when staff members or residents test positive for the coronavirus,” the summary reads. “Staff members [are] not following mask rules consistently. Residents’ test samples are not being delivered to lab. Quarantine rules are being enforced poorly, if at all, allowing residents who have been exposed to Covid-19 to move freely between Linda Manor units, potentially infecting other residents.”

In the full letter, one health care proxy alleged that on Dec. 31, a resident was transferred into the LEP from another wing during the quarantine. Berkshire Health Systems representatives said they could not immediately verify if that was true, but admissions to all of their programs have remained open in accordance with state guidelines.

“We were obviously extremely concerned” about the letter, which the proxies also sent to the adult protective agency Greater Springfield Senior Services, “and took it seriously,” Gaudet, the Berkshire Health Systems spokeswoman, said.

Administrators are working with the families to address their concerns, she said. Testing standards have changed over time, possibly leading to the “perception” among family members that tests were not performed or verified properly. She said that Berkshire Health Systems has reviewed the communications of multiple administrators since receiving the proxies’ letter.

“We believe that, based on the cases that were coming through, we were communicating with those family members,” Gaudet said. “As vaccines became more prevalent … how we quarantine has changed along the way. That includes quarantining people in the unit versus quarantining people in their rooms.”

Landis said that if a staff member is seen in violation of the mask requirements, a supervisor will provide education, “and if that behavior continues, we could move along from education to a performance evaluation.”

The proxy who spoke to the Gazette said that administrators “began trying to be transparent about what was going on with the virus, but it was very late in the game.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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