With hundreds of people in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities dying from COVID-19 in the past month, family members, residents and staff at the homes need access to the details on a daily basis.
At least 378 residents of these facilities died, based on data released last week by the state Department of Public Health, accounting for more than 40% of all the deaths from the disease in the state so far. Depending on where you look, that number could be low.
Since COVID-19 testing began in the town of Belmont, a full 59% of those who tested positive lived in some type of long-term care facility, according to reports. That Boston suburb of 26,000 people has seen 13 deaths from COVID-19, and all of the victims lived in Belmont Manor, a long-term care facility, its administrator confirmed last week.
Although nursing homes have been reporting data on staff and patients who tested positive and those who died, the state Department of Public Health has been slow to release specifics about which nursing homes have been affected and the rates of infection and fatalities in those buildings.
The tragic deaths of 25 residents of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and five at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home in recent weeks gave everyone a stark view of how rapidly the coronavirus could tear through a place where older people – many with significant health issues – live in close quarters.
Recently, more than 90 people at Longmeadow Senior Home tested positive for COVID-19 and 21 of the residents died. Reports of deaths at other nursing homes are coming in almost daily.
The risk isn’t only to residents of these places, of course, which is why family members and staff need to have ready access to the latest information.
The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services recently set up the Massachusetts Nursing Home Family Resource Line (617-660-5399), open from 9 to 5, seven days a week, to provide information to family members about nursing homes.
The dedicated phone service is a start, but it doesn’t address the need for the state Department of Public Health to include specific nursing homes or assisted living centers in its daily updates on COVID-19 positive tests and deaths. If a nursing home is seeing a growing number of COVID-19 cases, it’s vital the public knows about it and doesn’t find out by chance through a tip to the media or a statement by a nursing home staff member.