Local doctors push for aggressive steps to slow COVID-19 spread in nursing homes

BOSTON — The number of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes in Massachusetts continues to climb, despite an overall flattening of the curve statewide. But top doctors in the northeast say aggressive steps taken now can help reduce the spread of the virus.

“I think we should be ashamed of how we treated people like my mom,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at the NYU School of Medicine. His mother died in a Massachusetts nursing home in recent weeks.

“I think we left the staff to figure it out, without getting them the right training and equipment. We really have done a terrible job and I’m going to say, you know, this virus isn’t going away. We better pay attention because it’s going to come back and beat the nursing homes, again, if we don’t help them,” Dr. Caplan said.

Dr. Caplan points to the need for better staff training, more PPE, rapid coronavirus testing, and quick isolation of patients.

Boston 25 News spoke with doctors on the front lines who agree improvement is needed.

“We have to look at the nursing homes as a hotspot, just as we do in other parts of the communities and apply the same strategy that we do out in the community,” said Newton-Wellesley Hospital pathologist Dr. Michael Misialek. He tells Boston 25 News testing is critical and says it’s not too late to stop the virus from spreading.

“Our job now is to make sure it, it stays there and it ends there, that it doesn't become a new breeding ground and spread from the community,” Dr. Misialek added.

His colleague, Dr. Alan Glaser, medical director with Wellesley Primary Care Medicine, agrees. Dr. Glaser has been pushing for early separation of COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative patients. He would like to see staff stay in those same units for their entire shifts to contain the virus.

“The best way to get that plateau sooner and to prevent the continued escalation of cases is by being very aggressive early on getting the separate units in place… Getting the widespread testing,” Dr. Glaser said.

After spending his first Mother’s Day without his mom, Dr. Caplan said, he’s hoping the changes will have an impact soon.

“We’re learning some bitter lessons, but I hope we go forward with you know, improvement,” Dr. Caplan said.

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