COVID-19 hits nursing homes in Holyoke, Northampton 

  • A sign in support of the nursing staff at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke is displayed beside flags, flowers and wreaths, Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2020.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2020 6:14:19 PM

HOLYOKE — As the state Department of Public Health starts to release more data about the COVID-19 pandemic, including more detailed reports of cases in nursing homes, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is calling for state leaders to step in and take emergency operational control of all long-term care facilities with positive cases of the coronavirus in Massachusetts.

In a statement Tuesday, Morse called for state intervention at long-term care facilities in his city and across the state, arguing that regardless of ownership structure, they “have proven unprepared to deal with the veracity of this pandemic.” The state’s data on these facilities, he said, “is alarming, but to the best of our local knowledge, it is an undercounting of the true nature of the spread of this virus in these facilities.”

“In partnership with our local Board of Health and our Emergency Management Team, I am calling for immediate state intervention at Holyoke long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases, and for the state to implement a plan for direct emergency operational control or physical oversight of all long-term care facilities with positive cases in Massachusetts,” Morse said.

According to DPH data released Tuesday, there are five nursing homes, rest homes or skilled nursing facilities in Holyoke that have two or more cases of COVID-19, the threshold the agency is using to report such data. The data doesn’t differentiate between residents and staff and doesn’t include assisted living residences. There are also two facilities with COVID-19 cases in Northampton, according to the DPH’s data. No other facilities in Hampshire County were listed in the state’s data.

The Soldiers’ Home has the most reported and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Holyoke; as of Tuesday 93 veteran residents have been diagnosed with the infectious disease and 55 have died from it.

As of Tuesday, Day Brook Village Senior Living’s skilled nursing center at 298 Jarvis Ave. in Holyoke had 26 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 as well as two deaths, according to Lisa Gaudet, vice president of communications at Berkshire Healthcare. All of these cases, with the exception of two, were in the nursing home’s dementia special care unit, which Gaudet said makes it more challenging to help folks with cognitive or memory issues follow social distancing and other rules.

The facility has 92 licensed beds, according to DPH. In Tuesday’s report, DPH reported the number of confirmed cases at less than 10, far fewer than the numbers provided by Gaudet.

Mount St. Vincent Nursing Home, at 35 Holy Family Road in Holyoke, has 10-30 known cases of COVID-19 in its facility with 125 total beds, according to the DPH data. Christine Looby, spokeswomanfor Trinity Health of New England Senior Communities, said Wednesday she could not release more concrete numbers, but that more specific data is given to the DPH on a daily basis.

“Regardless of their status of COVID-19, we are considering everyone as if they are in isolation,” Looby said.

Nine residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and one has died from the disease at Mont Marie Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center at 36 Lower Westfield Road in Holyoke, according to a statement provided to the Gazette by Lisa Rivard-Chopak, administrator of the nursing home. Four employees have also tested positive for the disease and are in self-quarantine, she said. The facility has 84 licensed beds, according to DPH data.

“Our staff at Mont Marie Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center is working incredibly hard at infection control and keeping residents safe,” Rivard-Chopak said. “We are following all CDC and state guidelines, including placing residents who have been exposed in quarantine and those who have tested positive in isolation.”

Lastly, CareOne at Holyoke, at 260 Easthampton Road, has reported fewer than 10 known cases of COVID-19 to the state at its 164-bed facility, according to DPH data.

‘Not statistics’

At CareOne at Northampton, 548 Elm St., however, DPH figures show more than 30 cases of COVID-19 at its 125-bed facility.

In a statement, CareOne declined to release more information on those infected with COVID-19 at either its Holyoke or Northampton facilities, saying that “many continue to recover and the condition of these individuals changes each day, so a cumulative tally cannot accurately represent our current reality.”

“CareOne’s mission continues to focus on protecting our employees, residents, and communities.

“CareOne residents are not statistics. These are real people who have become a part of our family,” the statement read. “We communicate directly with residents, families, and employees, every day and will continue to do so. Families also have around-the-clock access to a hotline for information.

“Amid an incredibly challenging and rapidly changing environment, it’s not reasonable or prudent for our team to divert resources away from caring for our residents — our primary and most important task — to respond to inquiries from the public,” it continued.

At Highview of Northampton, 222 River Road in Leeds, three residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement released Tuesday.

As of Wednesday, there are no other tests outstanding and no workers have tested positive, said Tim Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems.

Holyoke HealthCare Center had been placed on Tuesday’s DPH list incorrectly, according to a spokesperson for the facility.

Mayor’s concerns

Holyoke Director of Health Sean Gonsalves wrote in an email Wednesday that the city’s board of health monitors communicable diseases through a statewide portal hosted by the state DPH called the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network (MAVEN).

Upon receipt of a positive COVID-19 case, the DPH reports these cases to the Holyoke board of health through MAVEN and the city’s public health officials then call the infected individual, or their nurse/caretaker if the person is incapacitated, for an “interview,” Gonsalves said. These interviews can reveal pertinent information such as personal demographics, possible disease transmission points as well as close contacts who are subsequently notified, he said.

The process is largely the same for long-term care facilities, Gonsalves said, though those interviews are usually done through nurses.

“We try and communicate with nursing homes and long-term care facilities (that have positive cases) on a daily basis, but that can be challenging for these facilities when dealing with a communicable disease outbreak,” Gonsalves said. “MDPH and the Board of Health regularly update the facilities with the most recent guidance (from the State and CDC) and communicate via conference calls to address issues as they arise.”

Calls to the Northampton Health Department to learn about its monitoring process for nursing homes in the city went unanswered on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In an interview Wednesday, Morse said that after revelations about the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, he directed the city’s board of health to reach out to every nursing home and long-term care facility in the city to get a sense of their response, procedures, protocols and personal protective equipment levels. Some concerns were even brought up by workers, family members of residents and, in some cases, administrators looking for help, according to Morse.

“We have regular conversations with these folks and (when) we peel back some of the layers, it’s evident some don’t have the capacity, the expertise, the support or the staffing,” Morse said.

He said that since these facilities are connected with the state DPH as they are given the ability to operate, the state should be able to send response teams to “evaluate and make sure these facilities are following proper protocols and procedures.” He said the state has been able to get more staff into the city’s Soldiers’ Home and could help with resource issues and with testing.

Intervention at the Soldiers’ Home was “too late,” said Morse said, adding that it would have been worse without help from the state.

“Are the nursing homes actually following protocols and procedures? And if they’re not, the quicker we can get in and assess that the better chance we have of keeping people healthy and saving lives,” Morse said. “Every minute matters, every day matters, every week matters, and I think that’s important.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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