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Senior Facilities and COVID-19

By Jason Alexander
Updated May 11, 2020

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Residents at Allerton House maintain social distancing while playing shuffleboard.  Photo courtesy of Carol Taylor

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In the past two weeks, State officials have been including more detail with their weekly release of COVID-19 statistics.  Specific numbers for senior living facilities and nursing homes are now part of that new information.  According to the data, more than half of all deaths from the virus have occurred at these types of facilities.  The AARP, which has been calling for increased transparency of nursing home illnesses, more personal protective equipment for staff and increased testing of residents and staff, refers to these facilities as “ground zero in the fight against the coronavirus.”

BEACON HILL’S RESPONSE

In response to the virus’ impact on this vulnerable population, Governor Baker recently announced that the State would be making an additional $130 million in funding available for nursing homes to pay for staff, cleaning and personal protective equipment.  This is in addition to the $130 million that was made available on April 15th.  “These funds will be allocated to nursing homes that are meeting a benchmark for certain criteria to ensure these privately operated facilities are working as safely as possible,” he said.  The governor also said the state would be auditing long-term care facilities to ensure compliance with a new set of care criteria.

The Legislature is also taking action to stay on top of the spread of the virus among seniors.  On April 21st, the House of Representatives voted to pass a bill which would require long-term care and assisted-living facilities to report COVID-19 cases and deaths on a daily basis to health officials, and it is now in the Senate.  This piece of legislation includes reporting requirements for all forms of elder housing, including “Soldiers’ Homes.”

HINGHAM FACILITIES

Hingham is home to several senior facilities.  The Lincoln School Apartments on Central Street is subsidized senior housing that is owned and maintained by the Town of Hingham.  Linden Ponds is an independent senior living community in South Hingham.  Queen Anne Nursing Home, also located in South Hingham, is a skilled nursing home, and  Allerton House and Bridges by Epoch are both assisted living facilities.  On Wednesday, April 29th, the most recent numbers were released, and the public was made aware of how each town in the Commonwealth was faring and how each senior facility was doing too.

For the safety and well-being of residents and staff, Bridges, Allerton House, Linden Ponds and Queen Anne all say that they have been in close contact with local and state health officials and engaging in important safety precautions, like restricting visitation to end-of-life and hospice care and keeping all community surfaces sanitized throughout the day.  Staff is required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like masks and gloves, and residents are having their temperatures taken daily.  Staff members are also having their temperatures taken at the start of each shift.

Social distancing is the order of the day, so, in lieu of dining rooms, Linden Ponds and Allerton House have adopted “Room Service Dining.”  All facilities have been engaging residents in creative forms of entertainment, like video chats with loved ones.  At Allerton House, family members schedule visits where they can stand outside with huge signs bearing expressions of love, while a loved one waves from inside the safety of their apartment.  Staff at Bridges have been showing residents how to participate in virtual activities and trips using online access.  Queen Anne has been employing various methods of technology, including Google Duo, to create virtual connections for residents.

BRIDGES BY EPOCH

Bridges exclusively serves seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.  Residents live in three separate highly-controlled, self-contained areas called “households,” and each household has dedicated direct-care staff who know the residents well.  This enables them to quickly spot any changes in their health or behavior.  On Friday, April 24th, testing was conducted by Fallon Ambulance Service “out of additional precaution to keep the residents safe,” and Bridges is pleased to announce that they have no positive cases of COVID-19.  “In a time of much uncertainty, I’m proud of my team here in Hingham for continuing to take strong precautions to keep our residents safe,” said Doreen Lang, Executive Director, “at the same time keeping them engaged and active while they are unable to have loved ones visit.”

ALLERTON HOUSE

One resident at Allerton House recently tested positive.  “We are a tight-knit community, and we are in constant communication with residents, families and staff about all aspects of life at Allerton House,” said Carol Taylor, Marketing Director.  “As a matter of protocol, when a resident or staff member tests positive, all residents, family members, and staff are notified.”  Carol is quick to add, “It is important to note that residents, their families, and staff have been extremely supportive of every precautionary measure our community has put in place to protect everyone’s health and safety.  We are following all guidelines.”  Allerton House offers traditional assisted living as well as memory care.  Those who are more independent are advised to adhere to social distancing guidelines when they go outdoors for activities, like shuffleboard, and they are encouraged to stay on campus and take advantage of delivery services.  Everyone is regularly informed about the importance of reporting any respiratory symptoms and are reminded to adhere to regular hand-washing and other best practices.

QUEEN ANNE NURSING HOME

Testing was completed for every one of the residents at Queen Anne, and, as of April 30th, there are 43 confirmed cases.  “We are so pleased to report that of the 43 positive cases 14 residents have completed their precautions and are recovered,” said Executive Director Kristen Lundin.  “Unfortunately, it has proved impossible to keep this rapidly spreading and highly contagious virus out of long-term care facilities, but we are taking extraordinary measures to manage the spread of COVID-19.”  Lundin hopes that expanded testing plus more financial assistance from the state to raise the pay for staff and purchase additional personal protective equipment will help stop any further spread of the virus.

LINDEN PONDS

“As we continue to be vigilant with testing and contact tracing, we can confirm that there are 15 active resident cases (out of 1,400 who live here),” said Dani Baldassare, Regional Communications Manager.  “These individuals are receiving appropriate care and treatment, and we are proceeding with the utmost caution. The safety and well-being of those on campus is our highest priority.”  In light of Governor Baker’s stay-in-place order, Linden Ponds is delivering mail and grocery orders directly to residents in their rooms.  They are also assisting with the delivery of orders from the on-campus pharmacy and marketplace and providing other services, such as pet walking.  Communication with residents has been taking place on multiple platforms, including a smartphone app and their in-house television station.

MOVING FORWARD

The State continues to grapple with the issue of testing.  Most of the testing that has been done to date has been conducted by the National Guard using mobile units.  In an attempt to assist with this initiative, the State sent out 14,000 kits that could be administered by facilities themselves; however, there were issues with the implementation.  So now the Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders has doubled the efforts of the National Guard in order to establish a baseline among the 383 nursing homes across the Commonwealth.  In the meantime, those in the field are focused on preserving and protecting the mental, emotional and physical health of their residents.

Editor’s Note: As of the most recent update, the Town of Hingham has not yet responded to requests for comment about the Lincoln School Apartments.  This is an ongoing story and will continue to be updated.

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Residents at Allerton House maintain social distancing while playing shuffleboard.  Photo courtesy of Carol Taylor