Senior care facilities are “teetering on the edge of collapse” without enough protective gear, testing and funding to keep Massachusetts’ most vulnerable populations alive as coronavirus spreads through nursing homes at an alarming rate.
“In a lot of ways, we are the front line of this battle. And that’s why the urgency of the personal protective equipment and the staffing and the resources is now,” said Massachusetts Senior Care Association President Tara Gregorio. “This was already a system in crisis. Add COVID-19 to it and we are a system that is teetering on the edge of collapse.”
At least 140 of the state’s more than 1,000 long-term care facilities have now reported at least one case of COVID-19, the state Department of Public Health said Wednesday, and 1,236 residents and health care workers have been sickened.
The numbers grow more grave by the day. Coronavirus has afflicted 77 of the 91 residents at AdviniaCare at Wilmington, and seven people already receiving end-of-life care have died, the facility said Wednesday.
State Attorney General Maura Healey is launching an investigation into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where 27 veterans have now died — 20 of whom tested positive for the virus — in an outbreak that has spread to 62 residents and 68 staff members. Gov. Charlie Baker also launched an independent investigation into the facility.
The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home reported seven deaths as of Wednesday — at least five who had the virus — and 21 veterans and 10 staff members have tested positive.
“I would anticipate that we have COVID-19 in virtually every facility. And it’s not because we aren’t taking all of the precautions,” Gregorio said, adding she expected the numbers to go up as testing becomes more widespread.
Long-term care facilities have been limiting visitors to protect residents most at-risk for contracting — and developing potentially deadly complications from — the novel virus.
But personal protective equipment is sorely lacking. Gregorio said facilities are burning through masks and gowns far quicker than they can be replenished.
And the system is understaffed. Gregorio estimated another 12,000 workers were needed — including 6,000 for positions vacant before the pandemic — and is calling on furloughed health care workers to help.
The Baker administration is providing $80 million to nursing facilities, and its mobile testing program had administered more than 1,600 coronavirus tests across 103 facilities as of Wednesday.
But Gregorio said long-term facilities shoveling money toward protective gear and overtime pay were operating on negative margins even before the crisis hit.
“The state is doing all that they can to help support nursing facilities,” Gregorio said. “But more is needed.”