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State freezes admissions at Leominster nursing home after COVID outbreak and 2 deaths

Life Care Center in Leominster. (Courtesy of Google Earth)
Life Care Center in Leominster. (Courtesy of Google Earth)

A state public health team has been helping to control a COVID-19 outbreak at a Leominster nursing home where two residents have died.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said a total of 83 people tested positive in the outbreak, including 50 residents at Life Care Center of Leominster and 33 staff members. Admissions to Life Care Center of Leominster have been frozen because of the outbreak.

A Life Care spokesperson said 90% of the infected residents were asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms. The infected staff members isolated at home, and many have now returned to work.

"The care, safety and well-being of our residents remains our No. 1 focus, " Life Care of Leominster Executive Director Samantha Mague wrote in an emailed statement. "We will continue to follow the guidance from our local health department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health," as well as federal guidelines.

The Department of Public Health said a rapid response team from the state was at the facility for 10 days and left Monday. The department said the team of about a dozen licensed nurses and nursing assistants will continue to monitor the 133-bed facility.

While factors including vaccination have made COVID less deadly than it was earlier in the pandemic, older adults are still among those most vulnerable to the disease. The state reported that of 168 confirmed COVID deaths last week, the average age of those who died was 79.

Dr. Asif Merchant, chief of geriatrics at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, said an outbreak in a nursing home is not surprising because the virus is circulating in the community. But Merchant also noted there have been improvements in nursing homes since the start of the pandemic in 2020, such as more coronavirus testing, vaccines and treatments.

"COVID is here to stay with us, and I think that's been abundantly clear," Merchant said. "Even though their number of infections is a lot, there aren't that many severe diseases or hospitalizations due to COVID, or deaths."

A group that represents hundreds of state nursing homes said COVID-19 is present in most communal health care settings, but recently infections have waned. The Massachusetts Senior Care Association said its members implement state and federally required infection control protocols. It also said that nursing homes have sufficient protective equipment and testing supplies to help identify and contain any outbreaks.

"Nursing facilities are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 when community transmission is high as there is no requirement for visitors to be tested prior to entering the facility, or for patients being discharged from the hospital to be quarantined prior to admission to the nursing facility," said association president Tara Gregorio.

But Gregorio added that most residents and staff have received coronavirus vaccinations and boosters, and that has decreased the severity of illness for many people.

The most recent state data available on nursing homes shows a few facilities with infections, but none appeared to be experiencing outbreaks on the scale the Leominster facility. The state data also does not reflect any current cases at Life Care Center of Leominster, although the facility and the state have confirmed the outbreak and the involvement of the state response team.

Life Care Center of Leominster is owned by Life Care Centers of America, one of the largest privately owned long-term elder care companies in the country. There are 15 Life Care Center nursing homes in Massachusetts.

Life Care has been criticized in the past for the way it has handled the pandemic. In 2020, federal inspectors found lapses in infection control and insufficient disease protocols at 10 of its facilities across the country, according to a Washington Post investigation.

One of the first deaths in a Massachusetts nursing home attributed to COVID-19 was at one of the company's facilitiesLife Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton. According to a lawsuit, 83-year-old Nick Kazantzas contracted COVID at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley and died of the disease in March 2020.

At the time, members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation called for more federal oversight of Life Care after dozens of residents and staff members at the Littleton facility tested positive for or died of the coronavirus.

The company said then that it would make every effort to comply with public health requirements.

In the summer of 2020, some Life Care of Nashoba Valley workers said they were fired from their jobs after they publicly complained about conditions at the facility and how it was responding to the pandemic. The state attorney general's office said it was investigating but could not comment on the investigation.


Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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