Relocating nursing home residents comes with a lot of risks, advocates warn

NORWOOD, Mass. — The elderly and people who have serious underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, making nursing homes and assisted living facilities hotbeds for the virus.

On Monday, Boston 25 News learned an 88-year-old resident and a staff member at Briarwood Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Needham tested positive for coronavirus.

We also learned a dozen residents at Charlwell House in Norwood were also diagnosed with COVID-19 and two of those people recently died. Nearly two dozen staff members are being monitored and the facility is working to prevent the virus from spreading.

"Our hope is that as a facility we've had our 'apex,' and now we're on the downslide. But you know with this thing it can change in a day unfortunately as we're seeing," said Chris Roberts, vice president of operations at Charlwell House.

Roberts says they are following state mandates which include suspending communal dining, taking employees temperatures every day and practicing social distancing.

"The residents who did test positive are on complete isolation in their rooms," he said.

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Meanwhile, there are concerns about a letter from Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary MaryLou Sudders asking for skilled nursing facilities to volunteer to relocate all of their residents in order to make room to treat coronavirus patients.

“Nursing home residents are one of the most vulnerable populations at risk for the virus, and we believe they should be sheltered in place rather than being moved,” said Arlene Germain, policy director for Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

Worcester nursing home Beaumont was the first to volunteer and residents moved out on Saturday.

“I was shocked, um it was so quick and done so against whatever regulations are already in place,” said Germain.

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Advocates say relocating comes with a lot of risks to residents.

"If you pick them up and move them, you're hurting their mental health, you're taking them away from their "family" that they've seen at the facility every day for years, putting them with people they don't know in a place they don't know, surrounded by people that you don't know what they have," said Roberts.

Some are asking the state to consider other options.

“There are some facilities that are already empty, that have already closed, maybe they can reopen,” said Germain.

The Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform are currently writing a letter to send to state leaders asking them to stop the relocations and reconsider other options.

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