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'It's Heartbreaking': Worcester Nursing Home Residents Moved To Make Way For COVID-19 Patients

A worker at a nursing home sanitizes a handrail. (David Goldman/AP)
A worker at a nursing home sanitizes a handrail. (David Goldman/AP)

Residents of a nursing facility in Worcester are being moved out to make room for patients who require ongoing treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester is the first of what will be multiple nursing homes converted for ongoing coronavirus care. It's part of an effort by the Massachusetts Department of Health to create additional capacity at hospitals that are responding to incoming cases of COVID-19.

"We understand this is not an easy thing to ask residents, families and nursing facilities to do," state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders wrote in a letter announcing the effort. "But it is necessary for the health and safety of the current residents and to ensure COVID-19 patients are receiving care in appropriate medical settings and that hospitals can [sustainably] handle the anticipated surge of care demands caused by the outbreak."

Without designated coronavirus care sites, hospitals would have to discharge COVID-19 patients to any skilled nursing facility with open capacity, which could put the rest of the healthy residents at risk, a DPH spokesperson said.

DPH did not answer WBUR's questions about how many nursing homes, or which ones, it was hoping to convert into designated COVID-19 sites.

Over the next few days, Beaumont residents will be moved to Beaumont's sister-facilities in Worcester. The state has yet to announce what other facilities might be converted into COVID-only wards.

In a video posted on Facebook on Friday, Matt Salmon, the CEO of Salmon Health and Retirement, which owns Beaumont, apologized for the stress the move would place on residents and families.

Salmon said the state came to the company with the proposal.

"I feel it's in our best interest to protect all of our residents by evacuating Beaumont at Worcester, creating a COVID-specific building that UMass Medical and St. Vincent's Hospital can discharge COVID-positive patients to ... without increasing the risk of infections among our seniors," he said.

"My worst fear is having mass outbreaks in nursing homes across the state because we are required or need to take COVID-positive residents," he continued.

The announcement came as a shock to some family members of Beaumont residents, who said they were worried about their loved ones.

Janice Bouchard said she found out her mother would have to move only through Salmon's Facebook post.

"The lack of communication regarding this decision was horrible," she said.

"After two days of stress over the fact that my 93-year old mother, a resident with dementia, is going to be moved on Tuesday, I have decided to just accept the inevitable and focus my energy on my mom and the hope that this transition will not take a big toll on her health and well-being," Bouchard said.

Melinda Cox's 73-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia, will also be relocated as part of the plan. Cox said she's worried about how her mother will handle the sudden move to an unfamiliar location.

"If you've ever head to look for a nursing home facility for a loved one ... it's a very personal journey," Cox said.

Adding to the strain for Cox and many families is the fact that nursing homes and other senior living residences have restricted visits in order to reduce the risk of virus transmissions.

"It's heartbreaking that we can't be there for her, and to have more input into where she goes, and even why she's moving to begin with," Cox said.

The move comes during a time when nursing homes across the state are struggling to maintain financial footing. Last week, Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, estimated that efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus would cost Massachusetts nursing homes at least $287 million.

Gregorio blamed "skyrocketing" overtime pay, the increased use of contract workers to fill vacant shifts, and the increased need for personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, thermometer covers, and alcohol-based sanitizer.

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Adrian Ma Twitter Reporter
Adrian Ma is a reporter for WBUR's Bostonomix team.

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