BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday his administration would be making $130 million in additional funding available by the end of the week for nursing homes to pay for additional staff, cleaning and personal protective equipment.
Baker said long-term care facilities, including the state’s 386 nursing homes, have “unfortunately evolved into a national hot spot,” with 10,031 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than half of the state’s deaths from the disease.
The governor also said the state was assembling a team of 120 nurses to deploy to facilities in emergency situations, and would be auditing long-term care facilities for compliance with a new set of care criteria including mandatory testing of staff and residents, a 28-point infectious disease check-list and adherence to protective equipment requirements.
The governor’s press briefing was the first since Saturday, and came a week before his executive order to close all nonessential businesses during the public health emergency is scheduled to expire on Monday.
Baker said he would have more to say about business closures and plans to reopen the economy later this week, but described Massachusetts as “still in the surge and very much in the fight,” contrasting conditions here with some other states.
The governor did say he believed Massachusetts had been successful in “flattening the curve,” but the number of new cases and hospitalizations, he said, have plateaued and “the trend data remains reasonably high.”
Issues at three Lowell area nursing homes have been well documented.
At Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton, a nurse, Maria Krier, died of COVID-19 after blowing the whistle on an outbreak at the facility, lacking protections for employees working with patients and lacking communication from management.
The facility’s handling of the outbreak prompted local officials to issue a statement in early April saying Life Care failed to comply with “lawful and appropriate” instructions from the Board of Health after a patient and staff member tested positive for the virus. State officials have also called for more transparency from the facility, and on April 3 the National Guard became involved in testing all nursing home residents.
On Friday, Life Care Center reported a total of 16 residents have died of the virus and 78 have tested positive. Among the employees at Life Care, 17 have tested positive and another 17 employees have not been tested but are showing symptoms.
Just days after the National Guard deployed to Littleton, it was deployed to Palm Center, a Chelmsford nursing home.
Requests from staff and discussion among Chelmsford leaders, facility administrators and the Department of Public Health prompted the decision to bring in the National Guard, as the Sun previously reported.
On April 7, a spokesperson for the facility’s parent company Genesis HealthCare, told the Sun 17 residents and nine employees at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19, while two residents have died. The spokesperson also said Palm Center has visitation restrictions in place, has been following state and federal guidelines and implemented enhanced employee and patient screenings beginning in early March.
AdviniaCare at Wilmington has also struggled with an outbreak. At the end of March the skilled nursing facility announced it intended to convert to a dedicated COVID-19 facility, but those plans were stalled after a majority of its residents tested positive for COVID-19.
As the number of positive cases and deaths rose, town officials turned to the state to ask for help.
Last week, Wilmington Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director William Cavanaugh said communication from the facility has improved, and state and local officials are “happy with how things are progressing there.”
In light of the outbreak, AdviniaCare has altered its plans and created a dedicated COVID-19 care unit instead of converting the entire facility to COVID-19 care. The unit accepted its first patient from Massachusetts General Hospital on Thursday.
On Friday, the Wilmington Health Department confirmed there were 22 active positive COVID-19 cases at the facility, there have been 36 deaths and 47 recoveries.