MA nursing homes hit hard by COVID-19, but a few facilities have managed to keep the virus at bay

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — 25 Investigates has reported extensively on the terrible toll coronavirus is taking on Massachusetts nursing homes.

So when a tip sent it by a viewer mentioned there is at least one facility in the state that has successfully kept the highly contagious virus out, investigative reporter Ted Daniel decided to check it out.

He found early action and planning resulted in 311 negative coronavirus tests for residents and staff at the Plymouth Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

“I don’t take this for granted, that’s for sure! Because there’s a lot of facilities out there that are struggling.” said Michelle Newcomb, administrator of the 182-bed facility in Plymouth.

Data released by the Massachusetts Department of Health shows COVID-19 is present at 348 long term care facilities across the state, and more than 4,100 residents have died from the virus. Only about a couple of dozen senior homes have been spared.

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Newcomb remembers the day the national guard arrived at her facility to test all residents, and the nervous wait for the results.

“We put it on the table and we just stared at it in amazement of everything that we had been doing,” added Newcomb. “I said, ‘OK, let’s breathe for one minute’ and the second minute we were right back at it.”

She says the news reports and images she saw from other parts of the world, where the virus was wreaking havoc, prompted her to take quick action. Newcomb said she started preparing weeks before the virus was even detected here in Massachusetts.

In February, she reviewed hygiene protocols with staff, ordered extra cleaning supplies and began screen everyone who entered the facility for travel, health and contact history. She stepped up screenings in early March and by March 13, she banned all non-essential visitors from entering the building, including family members, a difficult decision, she says, because other facilities were still allowing visits.

“I did have a lot of upset vendors, and I had a lot of upset families and various healthcare providers that said, ‘Well, we can go into that other facility.’ I said, ‘I'm not that other facility. This is my facility, and this is what we do.’”

In addition to the strict visitor’s policy, Newcomb also required and still does require, employees who feel sick to stay home and residents who exhibit symptoms are immediately tested and isolated for 14 days.

“Any residents that actually went to the hospital had to be tested as well prior to coming back to my building and be isolated for 14 days just to protect our facility and our other residents,” she said.

There are three other nursing homes within just a mile of the Plymouth Rehabilitation and Health Care Center. Approximately 29 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported at those nearby facilities.

“I just feel that we implemented everything that should have been placed by CDC and that my employees did it well. And hopefully, we’ll continue to do that,” said Newcomb, who has been in the nursing home business for 26 years.

Nursing homes are still in the thick of this pandemic. So, for now, Newcomb says the restrictions will remain in place and she and her staff will remain vigilant to ensure COVID-19 stays out of there facility.

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