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Two seniors die from COVID-19 amid outbreak at Charlwell House in Norwood

Western Mass. responders grapple with outbreaks in Greenfield, Williamstown

Two residents of the Charlwell House in Norwood died Friday as a result of a coronavirus outbreak at the senior housing facility.
Two residents of the Charlwell House in Norwood died Friday as a result of a coronavirus outbreak at the senior housing facility.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Two seniors died at Norwood Hospital Friday morning after a coronavirus outbreak sickened more than 10 residents of Charlwell House Health & Rehabilitation Center, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Friday’s deaths bring to four the number of residents of Massachusetts senior housing facilities known to have succumbed after contracting the highly contagious virus, which is especially virulent in older adults and those with serious medical conditions.

The large outbreak in Norwood, along with two others in Western Massachusetts that also came to light Friday, underscored the growing dangers of the coronavirus to communities where older adults live together in close quarters. Despite strict precautions that limit the movement of residents and prohibit visitors, the coronavirus has infected residents of nearly a dozen of the state’s senior sites in recent weeks.

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Several of the Charlwell residents and at least one staffer have also been hospitalized with severe symptoms of the virus, the sources said. They said some have tested positive for the virus and some await test results. Residents who have less severe symptoms are being isolated at the 124-room retirement and assisted living facility, they said, after 20 tests were sent there last Sunday and the majority came back positive.

Chris Roberts, vice president of operations for Charlwell House, confirmed in a statement Friday evening that two residents died due to COVID-19 related complications, "despite the extraordinary efforts of management and staff.''

"We have moved with an abundance of caution to limit contact between staff and residents themselves, knowing that many of our residents are at very high risk,'' the statement said.

In addition, Charlwell House personnel are following federal safety protocols.

"While we believe that moving residents from our facility poses a greater risk than remaining in place, we will, of course, abide by the wishes of the residents and their families,'' the statement said.

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State Department of Public Health officials released a prepared statement late Friday saying the department “is working closely with Charlwell House to support the facility in providing safe care for all residents, including those with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.” The statement, which didn’t confirm the two deaths, said state health officials are identifying nurses with nursing home experience to help ensure the facility is adequately staffed as it battles the coronavirus.

A letter Charlwell sent to families of residents this week said the company is working with Norwood Hospital and the DPH “to manage our efforts to control this."

“We are taking everyone’s temperature and ask multiple questions about recent contact and recent traveling," wrote Charlwell administrator Kenneth Kelley.

Nationally, public health officials and senior housing operators are increasingly concerned about the spread of the virus. A report Monday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which regulates skilled nursing facilities, said 147 sites in 27 states have at least one resident who’s tested positive for the virus.

In Massachusetts, the actual number of cases is likely to be higher than what has been publicly reported so far because the DPH, which posts a daily tally of coronavirus cases and deaths in the state, doesn’t divulge the number who resided in nursing homes, assisted living, memory care, independent living, or other senior facilities.

On Friday evening, the Williamstown Commons nursing facility said it has 14 residents and three staff members who have tested positive.

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In the Pioneer Valley, meanwhile, Greenfield town officials confirmed Friday that 10 residents of Buckley HealthCare Center, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Greenfield, have tested positive for COVID-19 and four have been sent to Bay State Health. The others are being quarantined in their rooms at Buckley.

National HealthCare Corp., the Tennessee company that owns Buckley, confirmed those numbers.

In Eastern Massachusetts, the outbreak at Charlwell House appears to be the most serious so far at a senior facility. Charlwell is perched on a hill at the end of a long driveway. On Friday afternoon, a woman who stood by a window at the front of the nursing home, peering inside at her 98-year-old mother, said she had not been told that anyone living or working at the facility had died from the novel coronavirus.

The woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Pat, to protect her mother’s privacy, said she received a letter from Charlwell saying people at the facility had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It makes you sad, and it also makes you worry," she said. She said her mother has lived at Charlwell for a couple of years and she was happy with the care she has received. She said her mother turned 98 earlier this month after the ban on visitors, and so her family visited through the window. The facility stopped allowing visitors earlier this month.

On Friday, the woman and her three sisters held signs up to the window, offering greetings to their mother as she sat in a chair inside in a room she shares with another resident. They filled a bird feeder that they placed outside the window because their mother likes to watch the birds.

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The outbreaks at Charlwell and the Western Massachusetts sites are the largest reported to date at the state’s senior living facilities. More than 20 other cases have been confirmed in at least seven other senior sites in the state, and residents have died after contracting coronavirus at the Jack Satter House in Revere and the Rogerson House in Boston.

Hebrew Senior Life, the Roslindale nonprofit that operates Jack Satter House, also confirmed Friday that four people at another property had tested positive for the virus. They include three residents who lived in the same cluster of rooms at Orchard Cove, a skilled nursing facility in Canton, along with an employee who has been asked to self-quarantine at home.

Other facilities where at least one resident or staffer has tested positive for infection are Branches of North Attleboro; Commons in Lincoln; Waltham Crossings; Assisted Living at Silver Lake in Kingston; and, Cape Cod Senior Residences in Bourne, managers of those properties have confirmed to the Globe.

John Ellement and Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.