The Central Massachusetts nursing home that was being converted into the state’s first COVID-19 recovery center has halted its hurried relocation of residents after one who was preparing to move tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the adult children of two residents.
Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that he hoped to open the recovery center at Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester within days as part of an ambitious plan to repurpose a dozen nursing homes across the state to handle virus patients who were out of intensive care but still needed oxygen and physical therapy.
But the sudden suspension of Beaumont’s push to transfer 147 residents over five days to other nearby facilities jeopardizes that timetable. And it throws into question the feasibility of relocating hundreds of long-term care residents ― the population at the highest risk for getting seriously ill or dying from the virus ― in the midst of the public health crisis.
Family members said they were told by Beaumont staffers Tuesday that a resident on the second floor of the Worcester residence had tested positive. That person was being isolated in a room there, while other residents of the floor, who had been scheduled to be moved Tuesday or Wednesday, were being quarantined in their rooms for 7 to 14 days.
Salmon Health & Retirement, the Westborough company that owns Beaumont and other long-term care facilities in the region, released a statement confirming that a resident had tested positive for COVID-19. The statement didn’t mention halting resident relocations, and management officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Today, we began notifying families of a positive case among one of our residents at Beaumont in Worcester,” the statement said. “We continue to follow strict infection prevention and control protocols for both residents and staff to minimize exposures. In addition, we continue to conduct health screenings for our staff prior to the start of their shift.”
A spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which last weekend announced the Beaumont site as the pilot program in its recovery center initiative, declined to comment on the infection there.
But in a statement, she said the state “will continue to work with skilled nursing facilities who are volunteering to serve as dedicated facilities” for recovering COVID-19 patients. The statement said state health officials will work with the National Guard and the Broad Institute to accelerate virus testing in nursing homes, but gave no details on where or when this would start.
Peter Nelson, an information technology consultant in Newmarket, N.H., said his 89-year-old mother Clara, a dementia patient in Beaumont, had been scheduled to move on Tuesday to an affiliated nursing home in Northbridge. But he was told by a Beaumont staffer that the move was postponed after a resident on her floor tested positive.
Nelson said he was told the suspension came after about 120 residents ― the majority of those in the facility ― already had been transferred to other sites in Central Massachusetts. He said family members had not been formally notified.
“If you have one positive test on the floor, and you’ve just shipped out 120 people to other facilities, that could put people at other facilities at risk,” Nelson said.
Carol Pouliot of Bristol, R.I., whose 87-year-old mother was moved from Beaumont to the Knollwood Nursing Center in Worcester on Monday, said a Beaumont staffer told her a resident there had tested positive for COVID-19.
Pouliot said the abrupt move had been a nightmare for her mother, who she said was given no advance notice and arrived in the new home without her belongings or money.
“She’s so already so upset that she wants to run away,” said Pouliot. She said she called the Knollwood management to demand that her mother and other residents relocated there from Beaumont this week be tested for COVID-19.
“My mom wasn’t tested,” she said. “They changed her roommate twice while she was [at Beaumont], and one of the roommates came from the second floor.”
The statement from Salmon Health said the company is having some residents tested “to ensure we are not transferring a Covid-19 positive patient to another nursing home.” If results come back negative, the remaining residents will be moved in the next day or so, it said.
“Any residents who test positive will remain in Beaumont for treatment,” the statement said. It didn’t say whether residents who had already been moved will also be tested.
State officials have been negotiating with other nursing home operators in the Boston area, Cape Cod, and Western Massachusetts, but they have yet to disclose any other sites for the recovery center. The Baker administration plan, which industry officials have lauded as a potential model for other states, was designed to relieve pressure on hospitals bracing for an influx of coronavirus patients in the coming weeks.
The plan, which would isolate recovering patients who might still be contagious, was also seen as a way for the state to avoid having to force nursing homes to accept those patients and trigger outbreaks among vulnerable senior populations.