25 Investigates

25 Investigates: MA took step to shut down nursing home it used for COVID-19 patients just months ago

BOSTON — This week, Massachusetts took a first step toward shutting down a nursing home that, just four months ago, it was using for COVID-19 positive patients. 25 Investigates recently reported how some struggling long-term care facilities were part of the state’s pandemic response plan, as coronavirus cases surged in the spring.

The state had documented this particular homes’ alleged failures but placed sick people in it anyway.

In July, 25 Investigates found it didn’t matter if a long-term care facility was struggling, battling an outbreak of COVID-19, or had a history of poor performance, if a facility attested on a form that it met certain infection control and safety criteria, they got on Massachusetts isolation space list.

That meant it could welcome new patients, who tested positive for COVID-19. And, the state freed up millions for those facilities in exchange.

“We should not continually impact nursing homes with these patients,” said Arlene Germain is the policy director of the Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, which has demanded for months the state stop sending sick COVID-19 patients into nursing homes. “And as we know, elders are very susceptible to any disease, and especially it turns out to COVID.”

Their fight continues as 25 Investigates learned the state was using at least one home for COVID-19 patients that it's now taking steps to shut down.

This week, MassHealth moved to revoke three facilities from its program, including Hermitage Healthcare of Worcester.

In a news release, MassHealth said the homes had “a historic record of poor performance.”

“It tells me that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” said Germain.

For their part, Hermitage Healthcare told us the submitted them to “four infection control surveys at The Hermitage and it was found to be in adherence.” The spokesperson went on to say, “We were therefore surprised and disappointed to learn from DPH that they had begun the process to revoke our participation in the MassHealth program. We plan to appeal this decision.”

“For more than five months, The Hermitage Healthcare has been working tirelessly to create a safe, effective care environment for our residents amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. While we were saddened by the loss of twelve residents to COVID-19, we are proud that the facility’s care helped most of the COVID-19 positive residents successfully recover. Unfortunately, most long-term care facilities in Massachusetts have lost residents to this dreadful scourge, and over 200 Massachusetts facilities experienced more COVID-19 fatalities than The Hermitage.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) conducted four infection control surveys at The Hermitage and it was found to be “in adherence” with infection control standards except on the date of one of these surveys. The facility’s average score for the four surveys was 27 out of a possible 28 (96%) and its final two surveys were “perfect 28′s”. We believe The Hermitage’s survey performance compares favorably with other Massachusetts skilled nursing facilities. The facility has also complied fully with all required COVID-19 testing of staff and residents and the reporting of test results.

We were therefore surprised and disappointed to learn from DPH that they had begun the process to revoke our participation in the MassHealth program. We plan to appeal this decision.

The Hermitage has taken steps to assure full compliance with all infection control protocols mandated by the state. We are confident that we have adequate staff, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and appropriate signage and staff training and other resources necessary to assure a safe environment for our residents.

The Hermitage Healthcare will work closely with the Department of Public Health to better understand and address their concerns and fully explain the successful results achieved by the facility.”

Hermitage Healthcare has 30 days to appeal the notice from MassHealth.

We asked the state about Hermitage Healthcare’s participation in the isolation space program. A DPH spokesperson told us “Since Hermitage Healthcare attested to meeting the infection control and safety criteria required to establish an isolation space within the facility, they were eligible to admit COVID-positive residents, and did so.”

25 Investigates has reported, there were other places for COVID-19 positive seniors to go.

The state-designated seven individual nursing home facilities across the state just for COVID patients in Worcester, East Longmeadow, New Bedford, Great Barrington, Falmouth, Brewster, Wilmington.

None of the seven was ever at capacity, in fact some were never used at all.

Five field hospitals were also set up for post-acute care for patients with COVID-19.

According to the state, at its peak, only 100 of the 500 beds at Boston Hope were used at the same time.

About 30 of the 250 beds at the DCU Center in Worcester were used at peak.

The field hospitals in Lowell, Dartmouth and Cape Cod never saw a single patient.

The state says field hospitals were meant to be an extension of hospitals and without them, the demand on nursing homes would’ve been even higher. And the state told 25 Investigates they have provided nursing homes with enormous support.

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